Welcome Diner to open new location in Tucson this summer

The third Welcome Diner location will occupy the former Chaffin's Diner space in Tucson. The new restaurant will be 20 times as large as the original. (Caleb Manning/DD)

The owners of Welcome Diner have plans to open another location in Tucson, 20 times the size of their Phoenix location.

“We’re going from 200 square feet in Phoenix to 4,000 square feet in Tuscon,” said Michael Babcock, chef and partner of Welcome Diner.

Babcock said they are in the process of renovating the historical mid-century diner, formally known as Chaffin’s Diner, located at 902 E. Broadway Blvd in Tucson.

Babcock said they have no expected open date because they are still building, but they are shooting for sometime this summer.

“Tucson has a culinary culture that is growing a lot like Phoenix is,” Babcock said.

He said they are excited to be close to the same culture.

“All the projects Welcome has done have started in or around a really amazing building and sort of told a story through that space,” he said.

Most of the renovations are being done to the kitchen to make it more modern and give them more flexibility to cook.

“We’re building the kitchen from scratch,” said Clayton Craw, executive chef at Welcome Diner.

Craw said he is most excited to cook with the wood grill that will be added.

“We want to keep that cool retro diner feel,” Craw said.

The larger space will redefine the way they are able to cook and serve their customers, Babcock said.

“It’s going to be a really unique experience,” he said. “The structure and the layout hasn’t changed, we’re just updating all the features.”

Craw said they look forward to adding employees and collaborating with the new team.

“We’re really based around this community centric approach to restaurants,” Craw said.

With access to a larger more modern kitchen in Tucson, they want to expand the menu to more entrees, small plates and a rotation of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Craw said people can expect a new menu that will still include a few of their classic diner items. The menu will have some southern influence, while also exploring Asian flavors.

Babcock said they will have more options at the Tucson location, unlike Welcome Diner in Phoenix where the menu is limited because of the space and how busy they are.

“I think we will have more of an opportunity to do that there because the space will allow it,” Babcock said.

Welcome Diner strives to make people feel at home, and that same sense of hospitality will be apparent in Tucson, Craw said.

Drew Marine, a customer at Welcome Diner, goes to Welcome Diner at least two or three times a month.

“My favorite thing is that they’re open late, so when I’m craving their pulled pork fries at midnight I can swing by to grab some,” Marine said .

This will be the third restaurant Babcock and owner Sloane McFarland have opened together, but only the second Welcome Diner. The duo also owns Welcome Chicken + Donuts in Phoenix.

Babcock said that since they started working on the Tucson location, he has had to step out of the kitchen in both restaurants, so he looks forward to putting his apron back on and cooking again.

They plan on taking some staff from Welcome Diner in Phoenix to help open the new location in Tucson. Babcock said that some employees will stay down at the new Tucson location while others will eventually return to Phoenix.

“We want to prove to people that food in the desert can be really delicious,” Craw said.

Contact the reporter at rblascak@asu.edu.