Big Brains

Hayden Flour Mills: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Culinary

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2013 Finalists

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 27, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: Hayden Flour Mills

See also: 2012 Big Brain Awards Winners Announced Meet New Times' 2013 Big Brain Finalists and Celebrate the Winners at Artopia on April 27

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 what's now called 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.

But that hasn't stopped Jeff Zimmerman from bringing back the name and the grain that once thrived in the Southwest.

A quality management specialist turned slow food activist, Zimmerman's revival of the Hayden Flour Mills process began with his family's growing interest in the resurgence of authentic foods, "just like people bringing back heritage tomatoes, veggies, pork. We just thought, well let's just see if there are ancient types of wheat."

Zimmerman and his daughter Emma began their quest to reclaim the heritage grains lost in the age of industrialized farming by enlisting the help of farmers, anthropologists, and organizations like Native Seeds Search in Tucson.

Not long after the Zimmermans' operation launched, they connected with pizza-maker and slow food aficionado Chris Bianco.

"He's probably the original guy for using local ingredients in his food," says Zimmerman, "but the one ingredient he didn't have was wheat."

A champion of the Zimmermans' efforts, Bianco invited Hayden Flour Mills to move in behind his sandwich shop, Pane Bianco, setting up their 1,600-pound Austrian stone mill and sifter and producing the various flours used by Bianco's restaurants and other Valley chefs across town.

You can also buy the flour at farmers markets and specialty shops (including Pane Bianco) around town. For a complete list, go to

As New Times sat with Zimmerman in the back of Hayden Flour Mills' cozy headquarters, Emma entered through the back door carrying a large white pastry box and declared, "It's a cake for Charles' birthday."

She was referring to Charles Hayden, original founder of the Hayden Flour Mill. April 4 marked the 188th anniversary of his birth, and Emma made a cake using the very same flour he would have milled.

The Zimmermans do well to pay homage to their inspirational founder and his heritage grains. So well in fact that direct descendants of Charles Hayden himself have reached out to offer their praise and their support to the operation.

In this sense Hayden Flour Mills is very much a community organization, a tight-knit family of farmers, chefs, and local food enthusiasts working under the Hayden Flour Mills umbrella. "We have a network of farmers passionate about growing it and a network of chefs passionate about using it," Jeff Zimmerman says.

Even with all this success, Zimmerman does not claim be an innovator. In fact, he modestly denounces it. "If I've thought of something, at least a hundred other people have thought of it before."

True, perhaps. But the Zimmermans are the ones who did it.

Buy a $10 ticket to enjoy an evening of food, drink and entertainment April 27 at the Monarch Theater in downtown Phoenix. Meet the finalists and learn who won during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia.

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Katie Johnson
Contact: Katie Johnson