Chaffin’s Diner on East Broadway has a motto: We serve smiles, not just food.
“We treat every meal as if you were only going to go out to eat one time that year and we want to make it the best meal and experience you’ll ever have,” said chef/owner Alex Chaffin. “We absolutely love what we do.”
But on Dec. 15, it will stop serving both when the 15-year-old family-owned restaurant closes for good.
Chaffin announced Tuesday he has sold the restaurant where he has spent the better part of his 33 years.
After months of discussions and a year after putting the restaurant at 902 E. Broadway on the market, the family inked a deal with Phoenix-based Welcome Diner.
The new owners are expected to open their eatery after they complete some minor renovations.
The space needs work for preservation, said Welcome’s chef Michael Babcock, who co-owns the diner with Sloane McFarland. “We intend to fully honor the structure.”
“They are going to make it nicer and prettier, which is needed,” Chaffin said. “They’re going to spruce it up a bit.”
The building was built in 1964 and has been home to several restaurants since, including Sambo’s in the 1970s and early ’80s.
The Chaffins opened their namesake restaurant in 2000, serving breakfast and lunch. They built a reputation for oversized portions of pancakes and omelettes that cover a plate, and smothered burritos big enough to feed two.
Chaffin and his girlfriend, Maya Ah King-Shota, took over the restaurant four years ago after his parents retired. He had worked there since he was 18, busing tables while he learned to cook.
He said he decided to sell the business “to free myself up for the next adventure in life.” That adventure will include continuing Tucson Cookie Company, a cookie production and delivery business he and King-Shota launched in summer 2013 with partner Scott Rosen. Chaffin said they are looking into opening the business in a storefront.
Babcock said he and McFarland have been considering Tucson as a market for their diner for some time.
“It’s a community that we really identify with and want to become a part of,” said the chef, 30, who got his start in Phoenix several years ago with a food truck called Old Dixie that served Southern cuisine.
He and McFarland partnered in early 2012, opening Welcome Diner in a pre-fab 1940s building in downtown Phoenix at 924 E. Roosevelt St. that seats nine inside and a dozen or more at tables outside. McFarland had originally launched the diner elsewhere in 2005 but closed it in 2008, Babcock said.
“The diner’s won multiple accolades from virtually every publication in Phoenix,” he said. “We’ve had national publication (mentions) like The New York Times and Food & Wine magazine. We are definitely dedicated to our craft, really trying to honor what it means to be a hospitality group. We’re really excited to bring that love and joy to the Tucson area.”
Late last year the pair opened their second restaurant, Welcome Chicken + Donuts, near Sky Harbor International Airport. The restaurant specializes in Korean-style fried chicken and artisan doughnuts.
Babcock said the Tucson menu will likely follow Welcome’s Phoenix menu, with some regional influences.
“We’re drawing from a lot of regions. We are excited to be geographically in Tucson because there’s such a Sonoran influence there,” he said. “I think we are going to want to pull from some of that and from some of our history. It’s going to be really fun. We are approaching it with a lot of open-mindedness.”
“This is not just exciting for us, but I honestly believe it’s exciting for Tucson,” Chaffin said. “They are an absolutely amazing group. I call Babcock a master chef.”