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Local Restauranteurs Heading South

In the May 16th, 2012, edition of Inc., Darren Dahl identified the 11 best business opportunities by industry, one of which is full service restaurants. Derrick Widmark and Paul Moir may not have read that article, but they are taking their restaurant experiences in Flagstaff and heading south to Tucson to open three new places.

Moir is the owner of Criollo and Brix in Flagstaff, and he is opening a new restaurant in Tucson named “Proper” in the downtown area across the street from the Hotel Congress. Moir says that for the past 18 months he has been looking for a location to start a new business, and although he was not originally looking at Tucson, “an opportunity presented itself and downtown Tucson is quickly emerging as a great location for restaurants in the area.”

Proper will use the same concept as Criollo: it will be a farm to table menu with small plates and some shared plate options. Criollo has a lower price point than Moir’s other restaurant, Brix, and Moir wants to maintain the idea of lower, affordable prices for his new restaurant in Tucson.

Moir will be using local wines as well as wines from Sutcliffe Vineyards in Cortez, Colo. He says he also plans on “blending our own house wines” for Proper. He is excited for all that Tucson has to offer. He knows the area well since he lived there in the 1990s, and he and his wife went to the University of Arizona.

Derrick Widmark is the owner of Diablo Burger in Flagstaff and is opening another Diablo Burger in Tucson as well as The Good Oak Bar, which will be two doors down from Diablo Burger. “This will be a small tavern serving Arizona beers and wines and a limited menu from the Diablo Burger kitchen,” Widmark said. “It will have more of a ‘hangout vibe’ than Diablo Burger, where you can have a pint or two, watch a game after a show at the Rialto and relax.”

Widmark chose Tucson after looking at options in downtown Phoenix but said “that the focus of downtown Phoenix is on bringing in national chains versus a small, local foods-based burger joint from Flagstaff.” He found Tucson’s downtown has an energy much like Flagstaff, and he found a great landlord, John VanLandingham, that made it a perfect fit for his vision.

Widmark’s ties to Diablo Trust, a Northern Arizona land management team that has been the source of Diablo Burger’s beef, will continue in Southern Arizona. Both Widmark and Moir are committed to continuing to use local and sustainable products in their restaurants and in Widmark’s new bar. “Tucson is very much within the 250-mile local food-shed radius that we believe is both practical and achievable in this state,” said Widmark. He is actively working to forge long-term relationships with producers in Southern Arizona.

The Rialto Block in Tucson where the three businesses will be closely located has been transformed from an area that was historically significant but run down to an area that is alive with new stores, coffee shops and restaurants. According to the Tucson Citizen, this area received funding from the city of Tucson to restore some of the pre-1948 building facades as well as to restore the area next to the historic Rialto Theatre. In addition, as of Spring 2013, the trolley will be up and running for easy access to all that Rialto Block area has to offer.

Neither Moir nor Widmark find running businesses on two ends of the state difficult. Moir says that it takes only three and a half hours from his house to Tucson and all he needs is one fuel efficient car. Widmark feels that, no matter what, “it still beats working for the other guy.”

Moir feels that the success of Criollo and Brix is directly related to his “incredible crew in Flagstaff.” Widmark said, “the most important measure of Diablo Burger’s success is whether or not we are helping to keep our local working lands in working hands and whether we are making a difference in the long-term.” FBN

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