When the owners of Creative Spirits, Stephanie Gerst and Keli Openshaw, were approached by Oregano’s Pizza Bistro a little over four months ago, they were on the brink of renewing their business lease in the University Plaza shopping center. That, however, did not come to pass, and as of a little over a week ago, the increasingly popular bring-your-own-beverage painting studio that combines socializing with art has moved across Milton Road.
More specifically, the two businesses have swapped spaces.
Creative Spirits, which offers painting classes through nine different artists, is now housed in what used to be Oregano’s at 605 W Riordan Road. The pizza joint is in the process of opening an expanded locale, having purchased a total of four spaces at 161 S. Plaza Way in the Safeway shopping center to combine into one larger restaurant, which company president Frank Sbordone says is set to open this July.
“It went so fast,” Openshaw said of the switch.
Oregano’s first approached the two women with the idea last November, and began retrofitting the Riordan location in late March of this year.
“We saw an opportunity that maybe we could approach Keli and Stephanie with this idea that we would use the space they were in as part of our new restaurant, something that necessitated us moving out a little earlier than we’d anticipated, which we did,” Sbordone said.
Oregano’s had its last day of service on March 25, and began renovating the Riordan building the following Monday. All told, the move and renovations took less than a month, the two women said. By April 18 everything was fully equipped and ready to go in time for the grand opening, which was sold out.
“Oregano’s took us to lunch here in November.” Openshaw said. “At that point were pretty sure they were going to want us to break our lease early for them. Then they outlined this whole plan about trading places and they said they really liked our business model and have just totally helped us out the whole way.”
Not only did Oregano’s absorb all renovation costs required to turn the former restaurant into an art-friendly space, they also provided labor for the move: their team transported all furniture and supplies to the new location. Oregano’s also made sure to keep in touch with Gerst and Openshaw regarding various aesthetic choices.
“It’s this big successful company and we’re this tiny little local paint and sip and they have totally taken us under their wing, and it’s been awesome,” Openshaw said.
The former kitchen has been removed, giving Creative Spirits an expanded foyer and office space. The ceiling, purposely exposed to reveal sturdy beams of wood, lends the space a rustic, homey feel, and the wainscoting has been repainted -- from Oregano’s tomato red to the iconic Creative Spirits plum.
“They even hired their artist to paint our sign outside, whose original design came from one of our artists, Lainey Anderson,” Gerst said.
The new studio is some 400 square feet larger than the old one, according to Openshaw, and includes a back patio, which the two women plan to use for their Creative Spirits summer camp, with squirt-gun water painting outdoors.
Another highlight of the renovation that Openshaw and Gerst look forward to showing off is the back room: a spacious glassed-in room that Oregano’s used for special events. The space has been transformed into a second painting studio and can hold as many as 45 people, Openshaw said.
For Oregano’s, the relocation has been equally beneficial.
“We think it’s a terrific move, we think the ladies are gonna do terrific in that old house, it’s a great concept that they have,” Sbordone said. “And it’s going to work a lot better: we can cater to guests on the West side of town and can offer them expanded parking."
The Riordan restaurant opened in Flagstaff in 1997, and the new space will be more than double the size of the old one, Sbordone said. It will also bring the list of Oregano’s restaurants up to 21; the company currently owns and operates a total of 20, having recently expanded beyond Arizona with a restaurant in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“I’m overwhelmed by their generosity, truly,” Gerst said.
The new Creative Spirits has the potential to fit more paint and sip customers, gets a lot of foot traffic, and has a generally welcoming atmosphere, Gerst and Openshaw agreed.
“It feels more like a house, like you’re having someone over to paint in your living room,” Openshaw said.
Openshaw, who works as Senior Service Line Programs developer at Northern Arizona Healthcare, and Gerst, who is an adult probation officer with Coconino County as well as a licensed massage therapist, said they look forward to operating in the new space. They will continue to balance the painting business with their respective day jobs, running Creative Spirits on nights and weekends.
“We’re busy women,” Gerst said. “But this is playtime, it doesn’t even feel like a job; it’s so relaxing after a stressful day. … We’re proud of the past, the present, and we look forward to the future.”