Adam Lehrman has a love for well prepared food and his journey in search of the best food the culturally vibrant city of Tucson, Arizona has to offer (which began in 2008) led him to create Tucson Foodie.
What once was solely a Twitter account documenting these great, local food finds turned into the full-fledged online magazine that it successfully is.
Receiving around fifty-thousand unique visitors per month, Tucson Foodie expanded it's social media reach (which includes: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest), and became the go-to site for all things food in and around the region.
So I sat down with the founder and "head foodie" of one of Arizona's premier food and beverage sites, Adam Lehrman, for a closer look at the origins of Tucson Foodie and its developer.
J: You said earlier when we spoke that you don't consider yourself a food critic nor a food blogger, so what do you consider yourself?
A: I never set out to be a blogger or a critic. I was, when I started Tucson Foodie, very passionate about really, really well prepared food, really high quality ingredients. When I got back to Tucson from San Francisco, at a time when there wasn't really anything to do in Tucson, I wanted to start a restaurant. I was documenting my search for all these really good ingredients that I wanted to use for the restaurant and I have a background in graphic design.
Twitter was becoming popular at the time and I decided I would start a Tucson Foodie account to track my search for this good food. There was really no thought behind it other than that. I made that little logo, the square logo which seemed to fit the Twitter profile and I started that account. The Tucson Foodie logo is a really bright logo that sticks out. It got a lot of followers really fast and right away I got invited to all these restaurant openings and I was immediately started to be recognized as press.
I was just riding that wave for a little while and I was invited to all kinds of fun stuff. Some point in there when I got the Twitter account I decided to do a full blog. At that point I guess I was an early food blogger but it was just something I was doing on the side.
I've never been a big follower of any blogs but I've always been a big fan of great writing, magazines and I'm a fan of business. I always saw it being more of a magazine, but not a print magazine, more of an online style magazine. That's what I refer to it as, I don't refer to it as a blog, even though we've won Tucson Weekly's "Best Blog" Award.
J: Would you say that the attention and the opportunities you got from just that one Twitter account is what encouraged you to make the Tucson Foodie website?
J: And what happened to the restaurant idea?
A: Oh man. Well, I had worked in a number of restaurants for years but I never managed a restaurant. So I decided I wanted to get some management experience. I went and got a job at a really well known restaurant in this town as a manager and I worked there for a month.
After a month of doing it I was just like, 'You know... I don't want to own a restaurant. This is not something I want to be doing everyday.' I have a lot of respect for people that want to do that and be in that, I think it's fun on occasion, it just didn't appeal to me at that point. So I'm glad I went and did that.
Also, as a business, they're one of the hardest businesses to run. If you think about any business you can conceive, restaurant or not, none of them have all of the intricacies of a restaurant. Your product, it's not one thing.
J: So if you did have a restaurant, it would have been what kind of restaurant?
A: At that time it was going to be a rooftop garden, farm to table restaurant. It would've been cool. I don't know if it would've worked but I would've grown as much as possible on the roof. In fact I even talked to an architect at that time about building a rooftop garden and he thought I was completely stupid, which I probably was.
J: Well, I definitely would've gone to that restaurant!
A: Thank you! You never will.
J: (laughs) What was your prior food knowledge to Tucson Foodie?
A: I mean I've worked in restaurants for years. My first restaurant job was at Tucson Country Club.
I started working there not knowing a thing about food. I wasn't even raised to be really into food. So I was working at the Country Club, and I was young, and I started getting exposed to all this really good food and terminology that I couldn't even begin to tell you a number of how much I learned at that place. I was there for four years.
I learned all about proper service, like the seven steps of service, and the interesting thing about the Country Club is that they do banquets there, big events, and they have the grill and they have the fine dining room. I worked in all three of those, I learned all three styles of service. That was the starting point.
While I was working there, I met this girl that said microbiotics can cure cancer. I remember looking into it. A microbiotic diet has a lot to do with eating with the seasons, eating with food that's native to your climate. That diet made a lot of sense to me. I never became obsessive about it, they always resonated with me, those diets that were blending a spiritual, energetic part with food, and health as well.
At that point, I had the knowledge of being at the Tucson Country Club, which was kind of a classical cuisine. It's American but it's heavily European inspired.
From there I went to work at T.G.I. Friday's. Friday's was a lot of fun. I wouldn't say Friday's is a place that's known for really great food but I became a bartender there and they, at the time, were known for having one of the best bar programs. Here I am still surrounded by food, still have to have good service.
From there I went to the Cup Cafe working breakfast shifts.
Then I ended up moving to San Francisco and it wasn't for a little while until I started working in another restaurant and I got really into food. I started going on farm tours and getting into really good coffee, going to really good restaurants (I mean, really good restaurants). That was going on for a while.
While I was in San Francisco I briefly moved to Colorado and I lived in a small farming town. I lived around big organic farmers.
After that was when I moved back to Tucson and I was just so ready to make that happen here and that's how I came to start Tucson Foodie.
J: How would you describe the Tucson food selection?
A: Well, I think it's heavily Sonoran, Mexican food with some interesting items that you might not see in other parts of the country, such as chimichangas or Sonoran dogs. I think those items to an extent, even subconsciously, have influenced other foods.
But we're in a really weird time right now. People are doing some really interesting things. There's a ramen place about to open up. There's some really good Italian restaurants. I think we could use some more stuff here but I think we're a pretty good mix of new American cuisine with a few little good Italian joints, a French joint, but we're still heavily weighted with Mexican restaurants... and it's Sonoran Mexican.
A restaurant is a business. See, that's one of the biggest things I've learned about doing Tucson Foodie is that everybody out there thinks they're a critic and you kind of have to understand that a restaurant first and foremost is a business. They are serving a product and there needs to be a demand for it. If there's no demand, they're out of business. So you have to offer something that people are going to want, or are going to buy, or going to check out.
Tucson's a funny audience.
J: I feel like a lot of people would think there isn't much to cover in Tucson but your site has so much content on it.
A: There is a lot of stuff. You have to find it. You have to come up with something creative. You have to be able to spot stuff that you think people want to read about. When you think about what are people wanting more information about, it becomes really easy.
I don't write anymore so much what I want to read about, I mean I do to an extent and that's how it started out, but at some point you got to shift to how do we become valuable to our readers and to me that's creating these resources for them.
J: So what is it about food that you love?
A: Eating it! (laughs)
I like stuff that's grown and made with love. I love to know who grew it, how they grew it, how it was harvested or slaughtered, how it was prepared, who prepared it and I like to know that it was prepared with the upmost care and love.
That's what's so great about food. You can make it with love.
J: You reminded me of the movie Ratatouille.
A: Oh yeah. That's a great movie. That scene when the food critic tries the rats ratatouille and it flashbacks... oh my god that scene gives me chills down my spine.
J: I love that scene!
If you could banish any one food from the planet, what would it be?
A: Maybe... high fructose corn syrup. Does that one count?
A: Or enriched flour products.
J: Is there anything you cannot eat?
A: I could eat anything. I wouldn't say I'd like anything, I mean, I'll try anything.
It just goes back to my saying, anybody that doesn't like a food just hasn't had it prepared correctly.
J: That's so true.
If you could eat anything at this moment what would it be?
A: I'm pretty well fed at the moment, so it'd probably be something sweet. Something gummy and sweet. But it'd be just one, not like a bunch of them. Like a sour patch kid, which probably has high fructose corn syrup! I mean we all have guilty pleasures and sweets is one of mine.
An organic gummy that has no high fructose corn syrup. Gum drops! They're in the bulk section at Whole Foods.