Interview with Diablo Burger’s Derrick Widmark

July 24, 2013
By Adam Lehrman

As people become more and more conscious of what they eat and where their food comes from, it quickly becomes clear that only a handful of restaurants in Tucson cater to this growing demographic of diners.

Diablo Burger, a recent addition to the rapidly growing downtown restaurant roster, is one of those restaurants. Sourcing as many of their ingredients locally as possible, Diablo Burger is truly a new breed of restaurant, helping set the stage in Tucson for restaurants with a much broader vision of sustainability.

Tucson Foodie recently had the chance to ask the owner of Diablo Burger, Derrick Widmark, about the ingredients Diablo Burger uses, as well as his thoughts and experience opening a second location in Tucson. Let’s just say if you have a local bacon source and some great old school hip-hop mix tapes, you might have a new buddy.

TF: Tell me a little bit about the Diablo Trust beef Diablo Burger uses. Is it still from the Flying M and Bar T Bar ranches? How is it processed? What kind of a diet do the cattle have?

DW: Diablo Burger serves 100% open-range, grass-fed and grass-finished beef from the two Diablo Trust ranches, the Flying M and the Bar T Bar, both of whom have operated in Northern Arizona since the late 1800’s. One thing that is unusual about this arrangement is that our burgers are made from all of the animal’s cuts, not just the chuck.

In other words, at most places, you are eating a burger that is made from the beef that remains after all of the primals, or prime cuts (steaks), have been removed, after which fat is typically added to that product. In our case, the burger is made from a mix of all of those cuts, and no fat is ever added, which results in a high quality, very tasty and very lean burger, with all of the significant health benefits that grass-fed beef has to offer. And because the cows eat nothing but the open range of Northern Arizona, we truly can deliver taste of place, or terroir as it is called in the wine world.

TF: Have you learned anything interesting in having to find new, local produce sources for the second location?

DW: I’ve learned that the local foods scene in Tucson is alive and well, and growing. There are great local producers and growers and the sense of appreciation and connection to those growers, which is so beneficial to community health in a wide range of ways, is palpable — in our restaurant, at the co-op, the local farmers’ markets and notably in the premiere issue of Edible Baja Arizona, the largest premiere issue of any Edible magazine anywhere in the U.S.

TF: Other than something tropical or seafood, is there something you just wish you could source locally but haven’t been able to find?

DW: Bacon.

TF: In a recent interview in Zocalo magazine, you mention that the model for offering locally sourced, open-range beef with “conservation values ’embedded’ in its quality” worked instantly when the first Diablo Burger was opened in Flagstaff in 2009. How has your experience been so far with the new downtown Tucson location? Better? Worse? Different?

DW: Different. Flagstaff is a one-degree of separation town and as such there was a pretty incredible buzz and subsequent enthusiasm about us opening there in 2009. Tucson is a much, much bigger stage, and we are one of several new restaurants to open downtown of late, with more on the way. So I think it is on us to deliver a restaurant that Tucson is proud of — one day at a time, one burger at a time.

TF: How many burgers do you think you eat per week and which one is your current fave?

DW: I probably eat 2-3 burgers a week. And as a fan of early hip-hop, not to mention sweet pickles and special sauce (our take on thousand island dressing), I’m currently partial to the “Big Daddy Kane.”

TF: Who dreams up the burger creations?

DW: Almost all of the burgers have been on the menu since we opened in Flagstaff in 2009. A few (the “Wrigley Field” and the “Big Daddy Kane”) were specials that then got added to the permanent offerings.

I’ve had a hand in most of them, some have been inspired by locally available products, like the “Vitamin B” which we created because we wanted to carry the amazing beets from McClendon’s Select, and the “The Blake” was created based on a recommendation from Blake Spalding, the genius owner/chef of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah, who said we couldn’t open our doors without a proper green-chile burger. She was right, and so we named the burger after her.

TF: What is Diablo Burger’s most popular burger?

DW: Might be too close to call. For a long time I thought it was “The Blake,” but the reality is that they all have their hard-core fans.

TF: Do you think the Diablo Burger model is repeatable in other states?

DW: I don’t see why not.

TF: The burger wars are in full swing. From, cheap and quick, to gourmet and high-priced, it’s out there. For someone that might be tired of hearing about another burger joint opening up, or swears by ‘so-and-so’s burger,’ what would you like to say to them? How do we get a skeptic to give Diablo Burger a try?

DW: We don’t advertise. We’ve only recently started using social media to connect with our guests. We put all of our intention into what we do inside of our space, and on using the absolutely highest quality local ingredients to make an ordinary, everyday thing — the burger — extraordinary. I fully understand and respect that what we do isn’t for everyone, and I’m okay with that. But I’ll put our product, and everything we do to create a memorable restaurant experience, up against anyone and anything else out there.

TF: I couldn’t help but notice, on a recent visit, how great the service was. That must be something you’ve encouraged. Care to comment?

DW: That’s great to hear. We look for, and have been lucky to find, a crew that takes pleasure in taking care of the people who visit our little burger joint. Like any new restaurant, we have had our share of stumbles out of the gate, but we are now at a place where I’m very happy with the food the kitchen is putting out, and the service we are providing.

I’ve also found that as a business, we can offer our employees the opportunity to stand behind a product and an ethos that they can really believe in, and take pride in. Having had more than my fair share of jobs when I was in my 20’s, I appreciate what a difference that makes and I definitely look for people for whom that can be true.

TF: And finally, I could’ve sworn when I ate at Diablo Burger in Flagstaff, I had waffle fries. Am I imagining this?

DW: Yes.

Diablo Burger is located at 312 E. Congress across the street from Hotel Congress. They can be reached at (520)882-2007. You can view their menu at Diablo Burger is closed Sundays.

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