It has been an eventful stretch of weeks in the Arizona food scene. We've had a Tucson-based Sonoran hot dog joint with outposts in Phoenix scoop a James Beard Award. We've had a statewide minimum wage increase, something that will ripple out to everything, and we've had a beloved local food publication indefinitely suspend print publications. There has been other news important to the metro Phoenix food scene, some good, some not-so-good. Below, we catch you up on five crucial items.
Tucson's El Güero Canelo Honored With James Beard Award
El Güero Canelo, Tucson's most famous Sonoran hot dog stand and restaurant, has been named one of five recipients of the James Beard Foundation's 2018 American Classics award. The distinction is given to restaurants that "have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community." It's a major honor for El Güero Canelo, which got its start as a six-by-eight foot trailer on Tucson's 12th Avenue back in 1993. Their Sonoran dogs follow a winning formula: plump franks wrapped in bacon, and then topped with chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise, beans, mustard, grilled onions and jalapeño sauce, all of it squeezed into a slightly sweet, fluffy split-top roll. It's a humble dish, for sure, but also one that's become a delicious and unpretentious emblem of Sonoran-Arizona cuisine. The James Beard recognition will no doubt further cement the El Güero Canelo's reputation as the top purveyor of Sonoran hot dogs in Arizona.
Local Chef Fired After Sexual Assault Allegations Surface
A Phoenix-area chef was fired after allegations of sexual assault against two women surfaced in a California police report. The women allege that Chris McKinley sexually assaulted them during a business trip to El Segundo in 2015. McKinley said the accusations are false. Second Story Liquor Bar in Scottsdale issued a statement after Phoenix New Times questioned the restaurant about the allegations: “Recently, the company has become aware of a serious allegation made against Mr. McKinley during his employment with another restaurant group in California during 2015, more than two years ago and prior to any consulting position with the company. As a result, our company and Chef McKinley have decided to end his agreement early while Mr. McKinley dedicates his energies towards addressing these allegations from 2015."
Arizona's New Minimum Wage Raises Questions for the Restaurant Industry
Arizona's minimum wage increase this year from $10 to $10.50 may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider the thin profit margins that sustain the restaurant industry, 5 percent is no small increase. Casey Stechnij, owner of the ice cream shop Udder Delights in Gilbert, points out that even though minimum wage is escalating the cost of the labor and raw materials, he cannot simply raise prices. "The price of ice cream must fit into a very small range; otherwise, customers would just go to the supermarket," he says. "We're pricing out future entrepreneurs to participate in our society. I don't know that I would open up an ice cream shop today." Adam Allison of Handlebar Diner in Mesa believes that with a higher minimum wage, the tendency will be to cut employee hours. "There's such a fine line in the restaurant industry with margins that something like this could take away your profits," he says. "There's two ways to fight this: Raise prices or cut hours."
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Downtown Phoenix Pop-Up Showcases Skills of Refugee Women
A pop-up shop featuring food and handicrafts made by Arizona refugee women is open at CityScape on Washington Street until the end of the month. Global Market showcases three organizations: the Syrian Sweets Exchange, AMWA, and RISE. The Syrian Sweets Exchange was established last year as a bake sale program for refugee families; the group now has around 20 Syrian bakers whose popular baklava and pastries are available at the shop. Women from AMWA (The American Muslim Women’s Association of Arizona) sell handmade pillow covers, aprons, oven mitts, and kitchen decor at Global Market. And RISE, Refugee Integration, Stability and Education, a Chandler-based branch of AMWA that provides tutoring for refugee children, lead art demonstrations and craft activities at the pop-up. A group of three graduate students from ASU’s Office of Global Social Work conceived of the Global Market project and worked in collaboration with the office of the vice mayor of Phoenix to coordinate the event.
Edible Baja Arizona to Temporarily Suspend Print Publication
Edible Baja Arizona, the bimonthy magazine that covers food south of the Gila River, has suspended print publication. The magazine is part of Edible Communities, a network of scores of publications that cover the food cultures of specific areas, with focuses ranging from Brooklyn to the Iowa River Valley to Phoenix. The stoppage is temporary and, Edible Baja emphasizes, limited to print. Digital publications will continue. "Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated," Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher, wrote in a post to the publication's Facebook. "Although we are dealing with some financial turbulence, the magazine is very much alive." Biggers notes that he and his team plan to reposition the magazine. His hope is that print operations will once again resume once the ship's course has been adjusted. He writes: "We look forward to updating everyone as we determine the best way for the mission of the magazine to continue in 2018 and beyond."