By, Rick Beitman
Supporting good, local businesses is fashionable. However, one of the most unique small businesses neighboring Thunderbird may have passed under the radar: Rayner’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop. Open since 2012, it was recently discovered by first-year MBA student Sylvia Imbrock.
Run by an entrepreneurial couple, Rayner’s (like Thunderbird) has its own international flair. Co-owner Tony Rayner is a classically trained pastry chef who hails from the United Kingdom. His wife, Pat, is American, and having formerly worked for a Belgian company, is skilled as a chocolatier.
Located at 14021 N 51st Avenue, Suite 106, on the east side of the street between Thunderbird and Greenway Roads, Rayner’s might be easy to miss. It finds itself in a rather humble outlet that is not easily visible from the street. – The location itself is quaint, boasting several tables and high tops, a large case filled with pastries and chocolates, and adorned with the Union Jack.
A pleasant, colorful environment, most fare is made from scratch on the premises. Rayner’s serves an assortment of fine, locally roasted coffees (hot or iced), teas, baked goods such as chocolate croissants, and Belgian chocolates. The website does not do Rayner’s justice as its in-house menu is far more expansive than its online offerings indicate. Hot breakfast and lunch are available, such as biscuits and gravy, a popular selection. The soup, a favorite of regulars, also changes and is updated by Pat on their Facebook page.
With only six employees (including Tony and Pat), Rayner’s is a textbook small business. One employee is even a former patron himself. The shop is frequented by regulars and, according to Pat, has a large British expatriate clientele. Favorites among the expat crowd include Eccles cake and Cornish pasties. Rayner’s keeps a map of the UK handy so when expats visit, they can mark their points of origin.
The people behind the food are as interesting as their creations are delicious. The good-humored Pat grew up in a military family and was from all over. She attended Arizona State University and “couldn’t wait to leave”. Afterward, she worked a desk job and stated, “I hated it.” When asked how she got into Belgian chocolate, she took a page from Joseph Campbell book and decided to “follow her bliss”.
Pat ended up working for a Belgian company because she “loved food”. She was trained in the art of chocolate in Brussels. She also expressed her enthusiasm for Belgium, exhorting, “You’ve got to go to Bruges!” noting there are 52 chocolate and candy shops in the city alone
Even though she was in sales, she had to learn the finer points of chocolate making so she could know the product for their target audience: pastry chefs. Pat said pastry chefs are “an arrogant bunch” and that “you need to know what you’re talking about.” – In the early 1990s, Pat worked for one such pastry chef, Tony Rayner. They became friends and things “blossomed” from there.
Tony and Pat were working in Seattle but in recent years, moved to Phoenix to be nearer to her parents. When asked why they opened shop in Glendale, apart from living in the area, Pat said they noticed a gap in the market: there were no chocolate, pastry, or independent coffee shops on the west side of town, at least not in any abundance. Pat noted that the rent was good, the equipment already in place, and the cash outlay “wasn’t crippling”.
Rayner’s fills the niche in the market quite well. According to Pat, they have steadily attracted regulars mostly by “word of mouth”. For T-Birds, Rayner’s is in a convenient location, and provides an opportunity to support a great local business and have a quality nosh in the same bite.