Big Brain Awards 2013

Page 3 of 13

In the library of his father's home, Fixico shows off items from his spring/summer 2014 collection. This room is where he does most of his work, from laying out fabric and conceptualizing his designs to sewing them. He pulls dresses in red and pink onto his form. They have a present-day Hollywood starlet feel to them.

He says he'll show the pieces through June. Then it's time to start working on a fresh collection.

"I don't know if that's how other designers do it, but that's how I'm doing it," Fixico says often, when discussing his work.

Then he remembers that prom is on April 27 and realizes that's the same night as Artopia. No worries. He says that the limo driver can drop him at Monarch Theatre — tailcoat and all. — Becky Bartkowski



Ask most any food truck owner and they'll tell you moving to a brick-and-mortar location is the ultimate dream. They'll tell you though that it takes money. And time — lots of time.

Unless you're Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson.

The pair hit the streets as Old Dixie's Southern Kitchen food truck just last fall and, by January 31, had found themselves a permanent home. It may have been a step up — and a fast one — but they had done the seemingly impossible and settled into what's got to be one of the few restaurant spaces in town with a kitchen smaller than the one on their truck.

In exchange for the lack of space, however, they took the chance to be the next faces in what's becoming the rich culinary history of the Welcome Diner.

The tiny red and white Valentine diner came to Phoenix by way of Wichita, Kansas, in 1980. Since opening in 2004, the kitchen's served as a stage for chefs including Payton Curry, MF Tasty's Eric Gitenstein, and even Matt's Big Breakfast.

Though they love the historic structure, Babcock and Robinson say, it's not always easy operating in a 68-year-old building.

"The diner is old [and] beat up," Babcock says matter of factly. "She requires a lot of attention."

Babcock and Robinson graduated from Arizona State University in 2012 with degrees in environmental science, and they met while she was working at the Phoenix Public Market.

"She was the cute girl behind the counter and I had to know her name," says Babcock, who worked for 10 years at local restaurants including Gallo Blanco and The Duce. He also traveled in search of inspiration, eventually settling on New Orleans cuisine.

When Robinson got a job as a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in northern California, they left Arizona and stumbled into an experience that would change their ideas about food forever.

To save money — because finding affordable housing on a sous chef's and hydrologist's pay isn't easy in Santa Cruz, California — they ended up living at Food Not Lawns, a farming and housing cooperative that also serves as a venue for music, workshops, and art shows.

It was while living there with a dozen other people that they learned firsthand about farming, gardening, animal husbandry, and more. Babcock got a job working in the slaughtering section of an organic farm where he learned to appreciate clean eating. They lived for a time with their "hands in the dirt, every day," as Robinson says.  

That was great, but they wanted to be business owners, and life brought them back to the Valley, where Robinson says the dry desert landscape means one can really appreciate what it takes to make things grow. (She still keeps her green thumb in the soil with the two plots of land she's had donated to turn into gardens for the diner.)

Old Dixie's Southern Kitchen food truck was an instant hit, and just months after hitting the road, Welcome Diner beckoned. Babcock and Robinson serve a limited menu (on a limited schedule — go to facebook.com/olddixies for details) out of the space.

Babcock's quick to point out that Old Dixie's presence at Welcome Diner is not really about putting their own stamp on things.

"I think Jenn and I were really people who understood what the diner was about — it's history," he says. "I don't think we really wanted to change it. We wanted to elevate it. We wanted to perpetuate it." — Lauren Saria


If you're a local, the Hayden Flour Mill needs no introduction. The iconic mill for which Tempe's main drag gets its name has stood at the corner of Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway for nearly 140 years. And though the long-abandoned building recently underwent a substantial renovation as an art space, the historic mill itself is indefinitely out of order.

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