By Kathy Montgomery | Photo by John Burcham
If life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, Nancy McCulla’s life is Simply Delicious.
McCulla came to Flagstaff in the early 1980s to study ceramics at Northern Arizona University, and she ended up with a successful catering business and its associated restaurant, Café Daily Fare.
A self-taught chef, McCulla has worked in restaurants since junior high.
“I started when I was 13,” she says. “I worked in a bakery under a master German baker. When I went to college in Colorado, I raffled off dinners to help pay my tuition. So I’ve literally been working in kitchens the whole time, putting myself through school.”
McCulla has worked in restaurants all over Northern Arizona, including Macy’s European Coffeehouse and Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge. Yet she always kept a catering business on the side. She began with wedding cakes and, for a while, supplied desserts to the Grand Canyon Railway and area restaurants.
She started the Simply Delicious catering company in leased kitchen space about 25 years ago. Eventually, McCulla and her husband, John Duffy, took over their current space on a hill above Historic Route 66. They opened Café Daily Fare as an adjunct to the catering business. It became so popular they had to remodel the dining area to accommodate more tables.
Diners come for the made-from-scratch food, primarily sandwiches, soups and salads, plus specialty dishes like fish tacos made with wild-caught Hawaiian red snapper and blackberry duck tacos with habanero aioli, Fossil Creek goat cheese and arugula.
In winter, the seasonally inspired specials include McCulla’s popular lamb stew, brimming with chunks of lamb and served with a thick slice of multigrain bread from Flagstaff’s Village Baker.
“I was going to take that off the menu in the summer, but it has a following,” McCulla says. “I couldn’t stop making it. We go through about 5 gallons a week.”
The café occupies an attractive, high-ceilinged industrial space with rough concrete floors, pale-yellow walls and fabricated window shutters that evoke a starry sky. Built as an icehouse in 1945, the building served as a foundry for several years.
“It’s been a lot of things,” McCulla says. “There were artist studios, sound studios. It was cheap rent.”
When McCulla took it over, the building was in bad shape, but it had power. Duffy did the remodeling.
“My husband is a Renaissance man,” McCulla says. “He’s an engineer, and he has a master’s in theater. He’s a playwright, a piano player and he’s built several kitchens. And what did he do to put himself through college? He was in construction."
Café Daily Fare is located at 408 E. Historic Route 66 in Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-774-2855 or visit www.simplydeliciousflagstaff.com.