Welcome, Indeed: Welcome Diner Expands Hours of Operation
November 28, 2016
by Eric Swedlund
The new Welcome Diner has received such a positive reception in its two months in Tucson that the restaurant is already moving to expanded lunch and breakfast hours.
In the mid-century building at 902 E. Broadway Blvd. that formerly housed Chaffin’s Diner and Sambo’s, Welcome Diner is the first Tucson expansion of the popular Phoenix restaurant, owned by Michael Babcock and Sloane McFarland.
Starting Dec. 12, Welcome Diner will expand to serve breakfast and lunch every day, open from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., Babcock says.
“It’s been amazing. We’ve been really well received by Tucson,” Babcock says. “We have a lot of regulars and industry folks and chefs I admire who come in here and sit at the counter. It’s families, retirees, musicians, weirdos. It’s a good mix.”
History buffs as well as chefs, Babcock and McFarland have spent time looking at vintage diners across the country, via real-estate sites and Craigslist, and were surprised to see Chaffin’s pop up on a search one day. The pair drove to Tucson the next day to meet with Alex Chaffin about Welcome Diner and their vision for a new location in the Chaffin’s building.
“He had a lot of offers, but we went with us because we developed that relationship,” Babcock says. “Our inspiration is these unique vintage spaces. We’re an architectural preservation group as much as we are a hospitality group.”
The Welcome Diner menu starts with some of the favorites from the original Phoenix location, which began in 2013 in a similarly historic building on the edge of downtown’s Roosevelt Row. The Southern cuisine staple of chicken and biscuits actually predates the Welcome Diner, carried over from Babcock’s former food truck, Old Dixie’s Southern Kitchen.
But as preparation for the Tucson location developed, more unique dishes were added to the menu, which will continue to change seasonally.
“Welcome’s motto to begin with is to use the things around us to build the menu. Locality means a lot to us,” says Babcock, who’s from Phoenix but has traveled a lot in the South. “When we committed to Tucson, we wanted to bring that idea of using our neighbors to help us build the menu. We didn’t want to bring Phoenix here.”
The Welcome team spent a lot of time searching and tasting around farmers’ markets to build relationships with top local providers. So while the Southern comfort style is a cornerstone of Welcome Diner, it’s presented with a particular Sonoran Desert spin.
“We’re definitely influenced by Southern American cooking, but also by the Southwest. We wed both those cultural influences into the cooking here,” Babcock says. “We’ve already started to dig more into that and added dishes that are unique to this diner and reflect our time in Southern Arizona.”
Developing the décor and design involved a lot of time spent researching the space and talking with the Chaffin family. Exposed beams and light blue upholstery bring back the retro, classic diner charm.
“We realized it’s definitely a landmark of Tucson and we’ve tried to honor that,” Babcock says. “We were coming from a place of restoration and peeled back the layers that were added over time. We wanted to dig back into the original architectural elements.”
For the beverage side of the menu, Welcome Diner brought in Connor Mansager, who previously worked at Agustin Kitchen and Scott & Co. Most of the drinks are on the lighter, brighter side, he says, to complement the dishes.
“My initial inspiration was the food. There’s a Southern, specifically New Orleans, influence, so with the drink menu, I wanted to combine NOLA classics with a soda-jerk vibe and Sonoran Desert ingredients. I’d love to channel that more,” he says.
Draft beers stick to a “Four Corners” theme, embracing the Southwest, while the wines have a local presence as well as reflecting Old World favorites and some fun, less common options. For more information, check out their website at http://welcomediner.net/broadway.