Pleased to Meet You

Darcy Landis has the enviable job title of 'forager' for Whole Foods, which just opened its new store in northwest Tucson. Here, Darcy talks food nerds, inappropriate giggling, and burning the candle at both ends. By Joan Calcagno. Cover photo courtesy of Whole Foods.

darcy landis

Darcy Landis, food forager. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods

Early bird or night owl? “I’m more a - there’s a scientific name for it - but I’m a dusk and dawn person. I like to get up way too early before the sun is up and have quiet time by myself and then get the day going or do the total opposite – stay up late. I have small children so that makes you an ‘all-day, all-night’ person. So whenever I have the time to reflect – that’s that pre-dawn time. Whether I get up really early or stay up really late, I love that time. The desert smells good, it’s kind of cool still.”


One of Darcy's favorite water bottles, by Liberty

Favorite accessory? “It’s going to have to be my water bottle. I’m water bottle obsessed. I currently have a Liberty water bottle, which is very nice because it is made from a steel works in the United States. It’s my go-to bottle. It has enamel inside, so there’s no ‘off-taste’. But I’d really like to get a Kleen Kanteen. There’s also the Lifefactory which is an all-glass bottle. Or a Hydro Flask...”

Favorite faux pas? “Laughing inappropriately. If you choose your favorite by what you do the most, I’m an inappropriate laugher. I’ve been known to laugh at a funeral. Maybe it’s an icebreaker, I don’t know. I’m a giggler. I’m definitely the person that disrupted high school by giggling.”


Whole Foods' latest store on Tucson's northwest side. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods

Who is your dream customer? "I started in the stores as a bagger in 1998. I would love to bag up some groceries for Dolly Parton. But my favorite customer is two different ones. One is a person who is doing everything new. They haven’t really thought about what they eat before and now they’re thinking about what they eat and everything is new and exciting. Like they ask ‘What’s this?’ and it’s hummus. The other one is the super food-nerd who wants to know all the details, like what temperature the oven is to get the crust on this bread. I love that because I know that stuff and where’s the fun in knowing if no one ever asks!”

If I weren’t a Whole Foods forager I would… “I feel like I wouldn’t do anything else. This job is made for me. It’s kind of perfect. But if I had gone another way, I think I might have gone into nursing because it is another way to care for people.”

If I could change one thing I would… “Oh. Not war and famine? Like something more fun? Because famine would be a good thing to change. I guess I’d like everyone to be curious. A lot of things would be more fun and a lot of bad things would go away if everyone was just a little more curious.”

Tell us a little more about foraging. “There is one characteristic that a forager has to have: to be easily excited. You have to see the potential in the thing and be so excited about it the whole way through the process so that you can midwife it to the market and get it to where it needs to be.

"I kind of get excited about everything. You could name a product that we carry and I can tell you about when it was in the approval process and how excited I was about it. Some of the stuff I’ve been really excited to bring to the market in the past was local grains and flours, local beans, because there was so much history in Arizona with those agricultural crops and being able to reintroduce them to the public.


Whole Foods' new Oracle Road store. Photo courtesy of Tucson Foodie

"Right now we’re working with the first meadery in Arizona. It’s a product that customers don’t have a lot of exposure to. But the market is kind of already there; people love to try new beers and wines and mead is kind of an in-between. It’s basically a wine, but not a grape wine, and people associate it with beer and ale – like the precursor to beer."

* The newly refurbished and expanded Whole Foods store at Ina and Oracle opened August 27th.  Send Darcy ideas for new products at [email protected]


Pleased to Meet You

Curtis McCrary, executive director of the Rialto Theatre and its brand new R Bar, talks owls, '90s commercials and other "worthless shit". (His words, people, not ours...) Cover photo courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star.

13 CAL CoverCurtis MP-p1

Photo courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star

Early bird or night owl? "Night owl, naturally. First of all, owls are much cooler than other birds, not to mention wiser. Secondly, night is where it's at. That's when the interesting stuff happens. There was this crappy commercial from the early '90s that had a jingle that went "I move better in the night" and that's always stayed with me, both for its truth but also because I have the uncanny ability to forever remember the most worthless shit.

"It's pretty much a necessity to be a night owl in this realm of endeavor. There's a big part of me that craves the regularity of an early-bird schedule, but never so much that I'd trade it."

Favorite accessory? "I gotta go with a smartphone, or more specifically an iPhone. It's funny, early on in the life of the iPhone there was lots of rhetoric about how people wanted them so as to be fashionable, trendy, etcetera, which ignored the incredible usefulness of the device. It's a truly remarkable thing to have an information resource more powerful and useful than the Library of Alexandria at your fingertips at all times. We are the first generation in history with this ability, and along with the internet itself, it's a game-changer in ways we've only barely begun to understand.

iphone"With all that said, I agree that there are downsides to people living a device-mediated existence. There is much merit in being present, and not constantly distracted by the ephemeral goings-on of the virtual world. I am selective about when I give my device attention. It's how you use it and what you make of it. This is true of all things."

Favorite faux pas? "Does it make me unimaginative to say that I try to avoid faux pas wherever possible and therefore why would I have a favorite? As a person who is, to put it charitably, easily annoyed, I try to keep my own faux pas to a minimum in an attempt to be considerate of others. So I guess "innocent" ones that only impact the false-stepper and not other people are considerably more tolerable (like, say, someone putting their shirt on inside-out).

"Here's an example of one I hate, which is not what you asked, but sue me: You're in traffic, signs announce a lane closure, considerate people get over as soon as possible, but jerks commit the faux pas of thinking that it's no big deal to zoom up and cut in at the last minute, failing to realize (or care) that that's why traffic is backing up. Maybe that's more of a dick move than a faux pas. We should ask Larry David."

Who is your dream customer? "I guess I don't dream about customers! Except that nightmare that servers have, and if you've ever waited tables, you know this one -- you dream you have forgotten a table in your section for an hour, but instead of leaving or getting your attention, they're just super pissed at you. But I think good customers, patronizing an establishment that they either like or think they might like, should assume good faith on the part of the establishment until they have substantial reason to think otherwise.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

"I think the tendency of people to slag businesses on Yelp or other crowdsourced review sites is rather unfortunate. I believe in voting with your feet when you don't like a place or have a bad experience. So I guess that means that my "dream customer" is someone who is there because they have an appreciation of what the establishment is, and does, and they patronize your place with regularity, and if they have an issue or a problem, they tell you about it directly."

If I weren't executive director of the Rialto Theatre I would... "Honestly, I have no idea. I would more than likely be working in the live music biz in some fashion, but that's far from a certainty. I'm not sure what else I'm qualified to do that I would find tolerable. It's not a big list. I have a long-held fantasy about being a helicopter pilot like T.C. from Magnum P.I. (how's that for a contemporary reference?) but I think at my age that ship has sailed, so to speak."

If I could change one thing I would... "Yes, absolutely. Or more than one thing, even!"

* When he's not being cheeky and/or staying up late, Curtis McCrary heads up the historic Rialto Theatre on Congress Street in downtown Tucson, originally a 1920s vaudeville venue and now a live concert spot. This month sees the opening of the Rialto's spin-off business, R Bar. You can find it around the corner from the theatre on S. Herbert Avenue. 


The R Bar, the Rialto's spin-off pub, is scheduled to open July 4th. Photo by Gillian Drummond



Pleased to Meet You

Tucson singer songwriter Sahara Starr on the joys of portable headphones, the limits of texting, and her second skin. By Joan Calcagno. Cover photo by Neil Peters Fotografie

Early bird or night owl?  “I’d have to say I’m more of a night owl because it’s easier to be creative and I’m more inspired in the evenings. There’s just something about the quiet of the night that helps reduce the noise in my head. I’m able to think clearly and work more efficiently. That being said, I do love the mornings. Even though I prefer staying up late, most days I have to get up early. A typical morning for me is waking up at 6 am, which is no fun!”

ultrasone headphonesFavorite accessory?  “Portable headphones. You can listen to music anywhere without disrupting others. And it works in the other direction as well when the person is sitting next to you, say on an airplane. With headphones on, it’s the best ‘do not disturb’ sign. It keeps the Chatty Cathys away. You can zone out and enjoy your hopefully turbulence-free flight in peace. My favorite brand is Ultrasone. I use those in my home studio and my portable Ultrasone Pycos everywhere else. Sound quality is especially important to me as I'm always checking to hear what the mix of my new songs sounds like and Ultrasone, in my opinion, is just superior to any brand I've tried."

Favorite faux pas? “Text messaging. It is wonderfully impersonal, but people use it for everything now – from alerting friends of their newborn baby’s arrival and even their grandmother’s funeral, which I had happen once. I enjoy text messaging because it’s more convenient, but I try not to use it for the big stuff. That whole grandma’s funeral thing was like ‘Whoa’. I would have expected a call for that one!”  

Who is your dream audience?I guess it would be people who listen to the songs as a whole and if the song is lacking in lyrics or melody, it would be someone who listens and sees the whole picture of the song. Also people who like to dance to it and sing it as loud as they can and allow themselves to be affected by it and allow it to move them.”

If I weren’t a singer/song-writer, I would… “I think I would be lost because I love to write. That is my comfort zone. So I guess since I like to write and express myself and tell stories through songs, I’d probably be a writer of some other sort - maybe dabble in fiction. I’ve taken some writing workshops and it is somewhat of a second skin for me because I enjoy it so much. I love building the narrative and developing complex characters.”

If I could change one thing I would… “If I had the power, I don’t think I could change just one thing. I don’t think I could stop at just one because there are just so many things, such as racism, discrimination, poverty, violence, and there is so much injustice in the world. So if it had to be one thing, it would be all these things as a collective whole. And hopefully inspire hope in the fact that we can change and that we can work collectively to one day eliminate all these things.”

What you don't know about my new CD is.... "There's a hidden track that's not listed on the track list. It's a rendition of "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones. I recorded it with [photographer] Dominic Bonuccelli. He played piano and accompanied me on vocals. He's truly a Jack of all trades!"

* Find Sahara’s new CD Pretty Day or download tracks on her website.  You can listen to Wild Horses below. Follow Sahara on Facebook here .    

Pleased to Meet You

Is beauty innate? Is art in the eye of the beholder? Tucson artist Wil Taylor addresses all of this and more. By Kaleigh Shufeldt. Cover photo by Tom Willett.


Wil Taylor. Photo by Tom Willett

Early bird or night owl? “I’m a nine to five kind of person. I don’t wake up too early and I don’t go to bed really late. I work so long that I’m kind of in that groove. I enjoy early morning and then early evening because of the temperature, the cars aren’t so loud yet, its nice, more relaxed.”

Favorite accessory? “Mechanical pencils. Love mechanical pencils. I have always liked them, ever since I can remember. They are so precise. I learned in the 80s, before computers, how to draw. I took every drafting class at my university. I guess I’m an old school master drafter, I do things by hand. Anything to do with drafting, drafting tables, templates, rulers - I love that stuff. You can do so much with them, you can make so many things. You can do anything with them.”


Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

Favorite faux pas? “I have a masters in art education from the U of A and I retired from teaching art in Tucson Unified School District. I decided that I wanted to go back to get a print making degree and when I enrolled in the program, one of the things they asked me was if I made ‘pretty art.’ Apparently I did, my art must have been pretty. I've heard that term ‘pretty art’ not just one time, like it was some personal anomaly, but many times from different professors. I was a little bit perplexed by the whole pretty art thing. What does that mean?”


Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

Who is your dream customer? “I meet them all the time. I've sold a lot of art over the years. Somebody who can see what the message is in my art or see me through my art or see themselves. Somebody that can see what it is, what it’s about past a surface level, getting into spiritual things or dreams.”

If I weren't an artist I would be a... “Forest ranger. I've worked for the forest service. I grew up in wilderness in the northern mountain of Washington. Nature lover, that’s kind of me. Something where there’s a lot of peace.

"Or I’d be a gardener. I plant bird attractable plants and trees. Datura is my favorite plant. They bloom at night. It’s got all these buds on it and they attract sphinx moths and hawks moths that fly like hummingbirds. It is so beautiful and it smells amazing.


Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

“I’m really interested in taking scientific illustration right now and kind of evolving it into more of a graphic representation. Drawing plants and animals, the parts and the pieces or scenes involving their behavior. It’s a whole genre of art that I think is definitely understated. It has its own circles.”

If I could change one thing I would... “I would love for people to start to see art as an instrument of beauty; that would be good for everybody – for the world, for communities. When it comes to music, violins are the instrument of beauty or guitars. It’s easy to see where the boundaries are or what it’s for, with art it’s a little more difficult. I don’t really agree that art is necessarily in the eye of the beholder. While it’s partially true, it is not the truth. I don’t know anybody that hates flowers or thinks they’re ugly. Beauty is innate, it has truth in it. Everybody has the capacity to make things beautiful. It’s interesting that all the other disciplines in art, whether it’s dance or music or movie making, they have certain kinds of guidelines or boundaries that you have to meet to be successful. With visual art people think anybody can do it. I think you have to have some kind of talent or skill at it.”

* Wil Taylor is a Tucson-based artist. Check out his website at From April 5th to May 29th, Delectables, 533 N. 4th Ave, will have  an art gallery of Wil’s work. 

* Wil was recently nominated for a 2014 Lumies Arts & Business Award. To find out more, or for a ticket to this year's awards ceremony on Friday June 6th, visit or call 520.624.0595 x10



Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

Pleased to Meet You

Leading up to the Arizona International Film Festival, Tucson actor, filmmaker and reviewer Brendan Guy Murphy talks intentional faux pas, ramming whaling boats, and respect. By Joan Calcagno.


Brendan Guy Murphy. Photo by Sergio Kardenas

Early bird or night owl? “I’m predominately a night owl, but it kind of comes and goes. That’s just part of being a Gemini – and depending on what work is happening at the moment. I mean, I love mornings but I love sleep even more, so I do lean more towards night owl. My girlfriend and I live together and she works kind of normal hours so for us to spend time together, it helps dictate when we go to bed - we want to go to bed together.”

Favorite accessory? “It used to be watches, but I think the cellphone has killed that industry a little bit. Now I really enjoy glasses. So far, I have three pairs – two regular and one pair prescription sunglasses. I’m fighting hard not to get any more!”

Favorite faux pas? “I kind of feel like I’m a walking faux pas. I am always saying something inappropriate, but not mean-spirited. For me, it’s more of a disarming thing – it allows me to break into a new situation and allows me to connect with somebody much more quickly. Intentional faux pas - just little jabs. I think you can tell who you can do that with. It’s an ice-breaker and cutting through the bullshit very quickly.”


A self-portrait of Brendan with his girlfriend, Dallas Thomas. Photo by Brendan Guy Murphy

If I weren’t an actor/reviewer/producer I would… “If I stayed in the arts, and went back in time, I would be an opera singer or photographer for National Geographic. If not in the arts, I would want to do something to help preserve wildlife – like join a vessel that rams whaling boats or some other very active participation. I was so captivated by the guy who was one of the originators of Greenpeace and then broke off, bought a boat. They put themselves in between whaling vessels and whales – spears flying over their heads. I thought ‘Now that’s really putting your money where your mouth is!’ Something that drives me – that I want to make another short film about – is empathy, decency and respect for wildlife. Nothing moves me more.”

If I could change one thing I would… “The idealist [in me] would wish for a re-start button for the world, and the U.S., since that’s where I’m living. I think there are institutions and laws that perpetuate racism, sexism and homophobia and wealth disparity. Life is challenging enough without ignorant human-made tremendous hurtles to overcome as well. With a re-start, I wouldn’t put everything in a small group’s hands. There would be a level playing field, with everyone having as much power and respect and a voice as everyone else.”

What's your involvement with this year's Arizona International Film Festival? “I reviewed about 30 films for the Arizona International Film Festival to help the organizers make decisions about what films should be included. I try to become the film viewer that I would like other film viewers to be. For some festivals, reviewers only watch the first minute and half of a short film or the first fifteen minutes of a feature film and make a decision. But I know the work that goes into [making a film]. It can be difficult, but I watched every film I was given at least once all the way through and sometimes two or three times if I was on the fence about something. It can be hard not to have preconceived notions, because you’ve heard about [a film] but good reviewers allow themselves to be taken somewhere unexpected.”


Late Spring, a film from South Korea, will be screened at this year's Arizona International Film Festival

What film will you not be missing at this year's Arizona International Film Festival? “Some of the films I reviewed I really want to see on the big screen. One will be showing opening night of the festival. It’s a South Korean feature film: Late Spring. It’s an interesting story about a man with a physical ailment who is somewhat catatonic because he cannot do sculpture anymore. His wife looks to find him a muse. It’s not just about his rehabilitation or the love his wife has for him, it says a lot about Korean society and the family unit. It hit me on deeper levels every ten minutes. And it’s beautifully shot.”

Favorite cinematic moment? “I’m a huge fan of Stanley Tucci. I got to meet him briefly. James Redford, Robert Redford’s son, made a movie here called Spin and I was cast as Stanley Tucci’s brother. I didn’t have any scenes with him; I die in the beginning. I wanted to be there longer so I asked if I could be a stand-in so I could be around for the whole film, waiting for a moment.

"One day Stanley Tucci came up to me and asked for a cigarette and I thought ‘Here’s that moment’. [We talked] about his movie Big Night - it was his casting, he wrote it, produced it, those are all his friends in it - and the cinematic moment at the end when there’s not a word spoken and the brothers come back together in the kitchen and are quietly eating eggs made in olive oil together and they pat each other on the back and hug a little as if to say ‘big fight - we don’t agree on these things, but we’re brothers’. I’ve never made eggs in butter again.”

* Find all the details about this year's Arizona International Film Festival, April 11-27, here. Brendan will be appearing in the festival in the short film Sheltered Love. He will begin shooting Blood Widow, the first feature film for his company Murphy Speaking Films, this fall.

* Want to go to the film fest's opening party? We're giving away two sets of tickets!


Brendan in the short film One Foot In by University of Arizona seniors Alexis B. Preston (director) and Cooper James (cinematographer). Photo courtesy of Alexis B. Preston and Cooper James.





Pleased to Meet You

Bisbee artist Brenna Curry on steel, heels and spitting (the latter is David Bowie's fault). By Kaleigh Shufeldt. Photos courtesy of Brenna Curry.


Brenna Curry was a professional photographer. Now she works with stainless steel in her studio in Bisbee, AZ.

Early bird or night owl? “Definitely a night owl. My dad was a night owl, my mom was a night owl. It is just easier. It's quiet. I don’t get bothered by people or phone calls. I’ve always been nocturnal. When the sun comes up, I don’t like that. I feel like a vampire. The sun is fine, but I am not a morning person.”

Favorite accessory? “Tools.  I use power tools - and in particular a Dremel rotary tool - to etch into the metal I work with, to give it layers and depth. I first started using it a long time ago; I just recently started using it with my art. I use it to burnish the metal.

brennacurry1"Stainless steel is a very hard metal to work with, and most metal artists do not work with stainless. I was hand sanding it, and [the pieces] are beautiful hand sanded but I needed a little bit more power. Someone introduced me to this little air tool disk, so I drilled a hole and cut the back off this little disk and put it on the back of my little Dremel.

brennacurry3“Metal just came along. I am a professional photographer by trade and I was in California and I accidentally got my camera wet. I had to wait until I could find a camera and I needed to feed my soul and I had this metal laying around. I came home from work and I squeezed some paint on it, squeezed some water and some oil. I came back a couple weeks later and I thought ‘Wow, this is cool. I might be able to do something with this.’ So there it began.”

Favorite faux pas? “Spitting. It’s bad, but if I have to spit, I’m going to spit. I won’t spit on people’s sidewalk. David Bowie said ‘You gotta love a woman that could hock a good loogie.’ What do I do a lot? I spit.”

Who is your dream customer? “The dream customer is the little girl who came in and spent about an hour with her mom talking about art and the next day she came in with her birthday money and bought one of those bottle clusters that I make. And she already knew she was going to put her beach glass in the bottle. Those are the favorite customers. That will be part of her for many years and could quite possibly be part of who she becomes. That simple moment, you can touch other people’s lives.”

brennacurry4If I weren’t an artist I would... “I already did all of it. I was never really a dreamer, I was more of a doer. I was a professional photographer by trade. I went to school for commercial photography. I was also a makeup artist and a graphic artist. I did head shots, I did model portfolios, I took shots of every golf course in the state. I was also a stagehand. But this is what I would be. This is it.

"I knew I would be a photographer when I was very young. I knew I was going to be an artist, period. If I wasn’t an artist I would be crazy. Art is the guarantee of sanity.”

If I could change one thing I would... “I would change my feet, because my feet hurt. I would change my shoes. Bisbee is a challenge; you don’t get to go shopping too much. I am on my feet all the time. I haven’t found the perfect shoes yet. I have been searching though. I am a vixen metal artist and vixens have to wear heels. It’s an image.”

* Brenna Curry runs Vixen Fine Art Metal Gallery at 42 Main Street, Bisbee, Arizona. She recently received the 2013 Buffalo Exchange Visual Arts Award for her painted stainless steel and creations of woven metal. For more on Buffalo Exchange, see our feature in this issue.



Pleased to Meet You

Artist Valerie Galloway gets in Valentine's mood with tales of France, good perfume, and why maps have a special place in her heart. By Gillian Drummond

Valerie Galloway at Wee Gallery, 2014

Valerie Galloway. Photo © Patricia Katchur

Early bird or night owl? "By rights I'm a night owl. I used to stay up really late and get up  late. Now that I'm a mom, I'm an early bird by default. I go to bed by 10 o'clock and I'm up at 6. I need eight hours of sleep or I just can't function. I guess I'm regimented enough to do what I need to do.

"I work from home, out of an Arizona Room, which is a real luxury. I lived in New York for years. Here, you can afford to have space. The studio is organized mess, but in the rest of the house I have to have it just so or I  go crazy. [In the rest of the house] I'm a neat freak."


Artwork courtesy of Valerie Galloway

Favorite accessory? "I don't ever leave the house without wearing perfume and lipstick, these are the two things. My mother is French. I remember an aunt we would visit in France and it would always be a big deal, what perfume you were wearing and the quality of it. I have strong memories of my grandmother visiting once every year or two and when she opened her suitcase it always smelled strongly of certain perfumes. She used to wear Caleche by Hermes. Some of my favorite perfumes are those from the '70s with similar citrusy fragrances, like O de Lancome and Cristalle by Chanel."

Favorite faux pas? "I could go on and on about those but they seem to always be about sending the wrong text to the wrong person and then having to explain myself, or mistakes with the auto-correct function on my iPhone. I only got an iPhone last year and I'm not tech-savvy. I need my hand held."


These pendants are part of a set of Valentines-themed products on sale at Yikes Toy Store. Photo courtesy of Valerie Galloway

Who is your dream customer? “They're all my dream customers. I love my customers. I have conversations with people and meet people because they bought my art.

"I try to have a lot of affordable art. I love working with maps, especially the really old maps from French dictionaries. I love to think about how many people before me used them for their studies, and upcycling them and giving them a second life or purpose.

"To me, maps evoke a variety of emotions - nostalgia, longing, excitement and sometimes even frustration. My father was in the Air Force, and we were forever moving. We moved every two or three years, and my family did some cross-country trips. Maps were always around on these trips of course, and it was exciting to find out where we were moving next."

If I weren't an artist I would... “I would be a French teacher because I love the French language so much. We speak a little bit at home,  just little phrases."

If I could change one thing I would... “The broadest answer would be to see nobody having to suffer. I would try to put more good in the world."

* See Valerie Galloway's Valentine's-themed art this month at Yikes Toys, 2930 East Broadway Blvd. She also sells at PopCycle and online at her etsy store.


Maps feature heavily in Valerie's work. Artwork courtesy of Valerie Galloway

Pleased to Meet You

With three cheese shops opening in a matter of months, Tana Fryer is becoming a local maestro in the cheese world. Here, the proprietor of Blu, A Wine & Cheese Stop, talks food and community, artisanal shoes, and why nobody should have a lactose problem. By Joan Calcagno.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

Early bird or night owl? "Early bird – totally. I’ve always been like that. I like getting up before everyone else. I like the quiet with a cup of coffee. There’s just something about the morning. That’s where my energy is.”

Favorite accessory? "It would have to be shoes or earrings. I love the creativity of a funky pair of shoes. Something handmade, artisanal. I love CYDWOQs. They’re handmade shoes from California. They’re hard to find but not ridiculously expensive. They change everything. They make jeans and a tee-shirt look totally cool.”

Favorite faux pas? "My favorites are things that [might be a faux pas but] can be carried off anyway. Like mismatched patterns or unexpected colors - color combinations that should be off but aren’t. I see these things and think ‘l would love to do that.’ But I’d look ridiculous.”


Some of Blu's samplings.

Who is your dream customer? “Anyone planning a party or who wants to try something for the first time. It’s like being on a journey with people. When I help someone … I’m introducing them to more than the cheeses. I’m introducing them to the people and the animals that produced them. It’s a very personal, intimate thing.
“I introduce them to a process and the result of a lot of love and care, and that is a lot of fun. Like with the quantrello di bufala. People haven’t often experienced water-buffalo mozzarella cheese but they can make a connection between the traditional mozzarella to something totally new and different. And it can be paired with an olive oil and vinegar to create something amazing.”

If I weren't a cheese shop owner I would... “I would figure out another way to work with food and the community. Before I got into this, I was helping nonprofits in crisis to reimagine themselves and reclaim what they are about when facing new realities. I just needed a sabbatical from that. I had done a lot of food and retail and decided to go back to the food industry. I got a job at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine in Chicago and went to all the American cheese Society events. I read every book I could get my hands on. It was a real intensive learning process.

“My wife and I were here in 2010, moved to Chicago in 2011, and then moved back here in 2012. When I got back, I was looking for cheeses and other things I missed and was thinking of opening a cheese shop. Through [contacts] I did an event at the Fox and the dream unfolded into the reality. In four weeks I had the certifications and commercial space and the first catering job”.

blu5If I could change one thing I would... “No one would be lactose intolerant. Some people haven’t always been and now that they are and they miss it. I see the longing. People buy for others and tell me ‘Oooh, that looks really good.’ “

* Find voluptuous cheeses and more at Blu, inside Alfonso’s Gourmet Olive Oil and Balsamics at St. Philip’s Plaza (River and Campbell) Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday 9 am to 3 pm, and coming soon inside a new Alfonso’s at Oracle and McGee. And, after a year in the making, a new kind of Blu will open at The Mercado San Agustin later this month. The Mercado location will feature a wine bar, cheese boards, charcuterie, and gourmet sandwiches, as well as a retail shop. Keep up with Blu on their website and Facebook page.

Pleased To Meet You

Author and pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix, who visits Tucson this month, argues the case for year-round Holiday lights. By Samantha Cummings. Cover photo courtesy of Charles Phoenix.

charles phoenix

Photo by Matt Blansett

Early bird or night owl? “I’m both. I love to stay up late. I do my best thinking in the middle of the night when there are no phone calls to make, no snacks to have, you’re not going to call your friends and chat. Then I love to get up early and take a brisk walk. It just kind of depends. I can do both.”

Favorite Christmas accessory? “I would have to say, there are too many. I can’t narrow it down to one. I'm all about the whimsical stuff. A classic color wheel, whether you have an aluminum Christmas tree or not. Another one would be a cardboard fireplace - total old school, mid century. If you don't have a fireplace, you get a fake one made out of this really bright red fake cardboard. It's kind of cartoonish and cute.

"I guess I'm a little bit of a pyromaniac because I love fire. But I'm never satisfied with regular fire - I want multicolored flames. There's one product that make a couple of different varieties of logs and one is the multicolored flame log and it burns blue, green, and orange. So, I'm all about the whimsical stuff."


Photo courtesy of Charles Phoenix

Favorite holiday faux pas? “That’s a tough one! When your friend comes over with a giant gift for you and you didn’t get one for them and you’re like, “Ahhhhh!” You panic.”

Who is your dream audience member? “Anyone with an attention span.”

If I weren’t a humorist/chef/performer/author I would… “I love classic cars, so probably something with that. My first career was as a fashion designer, my second career was buying and selling classic cars. I was born on a used car lot, so used cars, classic cars, American cars are in my blood. If everything fell apart and show business was over, I'd be back to the cars. Currently I have a '61 Pontiac Bonneville."

If I could change one thing I would… “I would make all outdoor lighting multicolored. I love multicolored lighting, at night, outdoors. If there was endless electricity, I would uplight trees at night – every tree in the city. I mean, maybe not every tree, but enough!

"I'd also try and address the amount of food that we waste. We need to eat smaller portions so we don't leave so much on our plate. I remember I ordered a salad in a restaurant and a friend was visiting me from France and the salad was set down in front of me and he goes, 'Oh, I didn't realized you ordered salad for the whole table.' Then I was like, 'No, this isn't for everyone. This is mine.' Then his plate came - it was the same size - and he goes, 'This could feed all of us!'"

*Charles Phoenix will present his Retro Holiday Slide Show, on December 27th at 7 p.m., at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.  

Pleased to Meet You

Daphna Ron, owner of Cakelab, talks frosting, frustration, and using the right kind of flour. By Samantha Cummings.


Daphna (right) with her brother Eyal. Photo by Samantha Cummings

Early bird or night owl? “I run the business with my brother Eyal. I would say we are both definitely night owls who just learned to be early birds. It took us six months, moving our schedules back a little bit, a little bit. We get up between 3 and 4:30 in the morning to get the stuff baked and ready to open at 9.”

Favorite accessory? “Frosting (my favorite is lemon zest-infused cream cheese) and our favorite accessory to the accessory is sprinkles.”


Photo courtesy of Cakelab

Favorite faux pas? “Making a cake that is too beautiful for someone to want to take a slice out of.”

Who is your dream customer? “The person who has had the option to go to restaurants that have gluten free menus, but the kitchen would still be cross-contaminated. They would be the people who come in here and feel totally safe and comfortable and excited about the options. We’ve had those people come in and say, ‘There’s nowhere for us to eat. The closest place is all the way up in Oracle.' My customers are exactly me. I opened this place because there was no place for me to eat.

"I’m a cake decorator by trade and I was diagnosed with celiac disease about ten years ago. I had these instances where there would be flour in the air and I’d get sick. The doctor said I could wear a mask and other options to change professions, but that wasn’t really an option to me. So, I worked for a little while at Whole Foods over on Speedway and they let me experiment a lot with alternative baking. So when I felt ready and construction ended on 4th Avenue, we got this amazing space and decided to do it."

If I weren’t the owner of Cakelab I would… "I play in a band, called Sock! Fight. I’d tour with the band, but I’m very happy owning Cakelab."


Photo by Samantha Cummings

If I could change one thing I would… “I would have tried to get a place with a bigger kitchen with more space to work, but at the same time, I don’t want to change locations and this was the only option."

“We did all this preparation of baking and testing our breads to be exactly the way we wanted them and I’d say a good 20-30 percent of the people that come in say, ‘Well, what do you have that’s dairy free?’ Because I have celiac disease and not an allergy to wheat, it wasn’t obvious to me that milk and wheat are complimentary allergies that go together. So, people who have the allergy to wheat seem to have intolerance to dairy. If I had researched or known that, then we would be prepared with vegan or at least dairy-free options for these people.”

* Cakelab is at 402 E. 4th Street. As well as a variety of pastries, cakes, cupcakes, breads, sandwiches and soups - all gluten-free - it also features and sells the work of local artists, and presents live music on weekends. Visit the Facebook page at



Photo courtesy of Cakelab