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Risk takers taste their luck in Tombstone

John Marshall, the owner of Puny John’s Restaurant stands behind the register of his newly opened restaurant. (Photo by: Cassidy Blumenthal).

John Marshall and Laure Johnston are hoping their new businesses are lucky in the town too tough to die.

The odds of their success could be small ,according to experts, but this is a risk worth taking in order for their dreams to become reality. Marshall and Johnston are striving for the ventures not to known as the  restaurant that never was. 

While old-timer restaurants continue to thrive, on Allen Street, smaller and newer restaurants fear slow business.

According to CNBC, 60 percent of new restaurants fail within the first year while 80 percent shut down before their fifth. Location, technolog, and bills are three of the biggest risks that owners face when running a business.

Marshall, the owner of Puny John’s BBQ, which opened in October, explained why he unwrapped his vision of a business in town.

“My family and I kept coming out to Tombstone weekly and it was always packed with people, no matter what time of the day it was,” Marshall said.

Marshall wanted to open a restaurant to showcase his talents in the kitchen and own it with his family. Once they began looking for locations in the old Western town, a time-worn house got dolled up and formed into a restaurant.

Months before the popular dining spot opened, they put an offer in and remodeled the old house into their family owned restaurant, Puny John’s BBQ.

“I opened my restaurant out here because it was financially affordable and I would never open anything in Sierra Vista.”

 Marshall fears that once tourists do not find his restaurant as ‘new’ anymore, business will be slow. However, he is counting on his cuisine. His is the only BBQ flavor in town, and he hopes customers will flock to his most popular item: prime rib French dip sandwich.

Marshall said the restaurant community in Tombstone works together as a system to fulfill tourist’s needs.

“Each restaurant in Tombstone helps each other out rather than making business a competition. We all know what each business sells, so if we do not serve the item they are looking for, we suggest other restaurants down the street to fulfill their specific craving,” Marshall said. 

On the opposite side of Allen Street, The Chuckwagon Restaurant is also owned by a family from Massachusetts who is taking a chance in the small tourist town.

The owner, Laure Johnston, had a vision of opening a home-style restaurant that serves breakfast in the morning to a dinner place in the evening. As of now, Johnston serves breakfast and closes mid-afternoon after their rush comes to an end. But she has is investing in plans for a take-out service and other services she hope will help the community.

Using the original restaurant name, Johnston opened her dream in January and is happy with the success of business.

With the disadvantage of being so distant from all the action that takes place on Allen Street, Johnston uses a strategy of trying to provide what other restaurants do not to lasso customers her way, according to her daughter, Taylor Johnston. 

Daughter of Johnston, Taylor, poses for a picture in her mother’s dream, which is now a reality in Tombstone. (Photo by: Cassidy Blumenthal).

Taylor believes that although “it is always a competition with restaurants in Tombstone, we all focus more on sharing each others’ businesses.”

Tourists traditionally  hit the older and better-known restaurants on Allen Street because of the atmosphere, according  to Lewis Snow, a paid cowboy host at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.

Longhorn Restaurant owner, Steve Goldstein, explains a simple, yet meaningful formula to create a successful restaurant. 

“If businesses came together with other merchants and all worked together rather than backstab each other, everyone would get an equal share of the pie,” Goldstein said. “This town learns things by word of mouth. Having a popular and diverse menu in each restaurant will grant them success and business.”

Goldstein said the recipe to success of owning business in town is putting the customers as the top priority. “Working with what you have as a business and having customers leave happy and full will not only create a good restaurant, but a good name for the town of Tombstone,” Goldstein said. 

Cassidy Blumenthal is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at cblumenthal@email.arizona.edu.

This post was edited after first publication to clarify statements from The Chuckwagon Restaurant and to correct businesses owned by Steve Goldstein.