PHOENIX – Baseball fans weren’t the only ones anxiously waiting for Major League Baseball and its players to settle a labor lockout that lasted for 99 days and put spring training on hold.
Restaurant owners around the Valley were just as interested in a settlement while there is still time to benefit from the boost in business that comes from the 15 teams visiting the Phoenix area to play in the Cactus League.
“It’s extremely important for the community as well as the restaurant,” said Daniel Ligurotis, general manager of Butters Pancakes & Cafe located in Scottsdale, not far from Salt River Fields where the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies train.
“We’re very lucky to have a really loyal customer base here that are local, but I have associates and friends who are in hospitality all over Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix area, and their lives are make or break by spring training going on,” Ligurotis said.
The Cactus League operates out of 10 stadiums across the Phoenix metropolitan area, stretching from Goodyear to Mesa, with several teams sharing a stadium complex.
In 2018, the last full spring training season before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Valley saw an economic impact of $644.2 million from the Cactus League, according to a study done by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.
That’s why many restaurant owners were relieved on March 10, when owners and players came to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement and announced an abbreviated spring training schedule.
Originally slated to begin on Feb. 26, the Cactus League was pushed forward and runs from March 17 through April 5. It falls in Arizona’s peak weather season, when baseball fans are ready to enjoy the sunshine – and their favorite restaurants and watering holes.
“We are such a big, open space. We have a lot of patio seating, and I think we would really like to call that in,” said Nico Doniele Scegiel, co-owner of Santé, a popular north Scottsdale organic restaurant. “So, it was a big sigh of relief to hear that they came to some kind of conclusion.”
Because this year’s spring training season is the first for Santé, which opened in December, Doniele Scegiel is excited about the new customers her restaurant could potentially gain.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of influx of business within the next week or so, especially since it’s kind of just beginning,” she said. “I think since it’s so short, people are going to be out and about immediately.”
At Butters Pancakes & Cafe, traffic picked up immediately after spring training officially arrived.
“There’s already people coming from out of state, from out of town, you can see them,” Ligurotis said. “Everybody is starting to show up. Everybody is representing their team. It was immediate. It was like turning on a light switch.”
Ligurotis, who has been in the restaurant industry for more than a decade, always sees familiar faces at Butters Pancakes & Cafe once spring training rolls around.
“I’ve seen the same families for years, and I’m talking years and years and years,” Ligurotis said. “You only see them for a short amount of time, so it’s really cool to watch the kids grow up.”
Fans and their families aren’t the only ones sampling the delicacies at Valley restaurants during the Cactus League. Many of the major league and minor league players taking part in camp also explore the many dining options the Phoenix area has to offer.
“For years I’ve made friends with all of the guys in minor leagues,” Ligurotis said. “I’ve made a lot of friends with the guys in major leagues, so it’s really nice to get to see those guys…
“They come in, they eat and we hear about it, and it’s a great time.”