Friday, July 22, 2016

The Tucson Homeskillet (Sort Of) Year In Review

Why the "sort of" in parenthesis for a year in review? Well, officially The Tucson Homeskillet got its humble humble start in 2011.

At the time, I, Metal Mark, was working as a chef and kitchen supervisor while my dear partner in culinary crime, She-Ra, continued her rise to fame and power at her base of beer and food operations at Old Chicago. It was around this era that the both of us came to the conclusion, as we discussed future plans, that we would love to open a place of our own. You know, a fun bar concept that serves up really good food. Or...something like that, we're still working on it. So in the moment I thought it would be cool to start a sort of food blog to track our path to small business ownership.

Yeah, well...we still have a long long way to go before we are even close to being in business for ourselves.

At first the Homeskillet was just a once in a while "when we got around to it" blog that was very basic, very homey without any real care, ambition or focus. It was just sort of a...'whatever' thing with us.

The Tucson Homeskillet debuted in 2011 with this funky banner

We did things like recipes with leeks, how to save money during the lean times of the summer here in Tucson and, of course, eating crap fast food when we (I) got too drunk. It was just an amusing venture to do when we got around to it and that was honestly all there was to that.

But then, suddenly, the Tucson Homeskillet came to a skidding halt.

In 2014 She-Ra and I experienced a very tragic, very emotionally trying year, one that was wrought with the loss of five, count them five, family members in the course of a few short months. We don't want to go into it but, yeah....2014 sucked and the last thing on our minds was writing about our favorite happy hours, how to cook leeks or the secret to our amazing homemade burgers.

(It's infusing bacon and brisket into the beef...shhhhh!)

Man, I was really in love with that stupid font

The aftershock of such a terrible and draining collection of months stayed with us (me especially, since I lost both of my Dads within a few short weeks) was so devastating that all I could do was work my day job in a zombie-like haze and eat and drink just to get by. It was rough. Really rough. For quite a spell "Metal Mark" was definitely not himself and that alone was just sadness piled on sadness making a sadness cake of bummed out sad.

After wallowing in my own suck mire for long enough, I decided that it was time to move on. Not so much 'get over it', but at least try and get back into the groove of real life. So I made a short list of things that make me happy and try to find some amount of inspiration and solace in that.

Here is what it said:
My friends
Bad movies
A good honest drink
Our garden
Lil Poundcake 
(who adopted us on New years Eve of 2014, so she was like the best thing ever...still is)

So I broke it down and decided that if I could infuse all of those elements into a fun project I just might be able to pull through. But how, but what and but where?

Hey, why not revive the Homeskillet?

Another early promo when the Tucson Homeskillet was (kind of) just known as The Homeskillet

That seemed fine and dandy and all but, really, I didn't feel like giving life to some silly old blog, one fixated with the AR Christy font and cartoon bunnies as my header logo.

Huh. When I put it like that, the bunny thing seems kind of cool. was time to take the site to a new level.

To motivate me into the foray of food journalism I contacted the one big name in town, a food site that covers any and all culinary goings on around town and one that I had been following for about a year or so.

I met with the head honcho of the food site and I immediately started pitching ideas. He liked my one about the best banh mi sandwiches in Tucson so I was soon off and running around southern Arizona, looking for, finding and then eating the delicious Vietnamese delicacy. In about a week I had consumed about a good dozen or so banh mi sandwiches and, yes, to this day, I still have yet to touch another one. They're good and everything, it's just that, well...when you've done nothing but eat one item everyday in such a close amount of time the smell and flavor of it all becomes a trite prosaic, even unappetizing. But I got my first assignment in and was soon on to my next article for the site.

Love me some banh mi sandwiches but after that piece...ugh

Well, it didn't take long to see that I was a poor fit for that particular website. My style is just too loose and my focus is far from the downtown hipster scene or the newest and trendiest eateries in Tucson, which is what the site kind of prides itself on.

I turned in three articles then we parted ways. But it wasn't a total loss. To contribute to the site you had to have a badass camera, so I had purchased myself one and, eventually, was able to finally pay it off with tax returns. Plus it had lit a fire under by butt and in my belly that I had the chops to do this food blogging thing on my own.

So on a day off, while She-Ra was at work, I sat down and reconfigured the design of the Homeskillet, added a bunch of extras, got rid of that lame AR Christy font and blasted the header with a picture I took after a run from a farmers market alongside an old piece of pizza I found in the microwave.

The idea was simple: Put all of the elements I had written down and just turn the Tucson Homeskillet into a fun passion piece.

After I had gotten the design to a decent specification, I threw this post up just to see what would happen:

The blog reboot in 2015 with this proclamation

Not much happened. I think a good dozen or so people saw that post. I mean, it really wasn't much of anything so I then decided that my first real article was going to be a fairly big one.

I took a long day trip down 6th Avenue, sampling some of the food truck fare, visiting the massive Food City, eating pastries at La Cave's and just getting myself out there to see what I could see. It was a clunky piece, fairly unfocused, but it was a start into a new and bigger direction. Promoting it online and such got me more responses but just a scant above the usual low double digits or so. It was then that I made the decision to be a proper website and not just a blog page.

So I registered the name, paid the small fee and from then on Google allows me to be It was then that things started to take off.

Sort of.

Once we got the web address, the adverts started going out

Still small time compared to some of the heavy hitters in the food writing sites and publications here in Tucson, but with a goofy edge and a Metal song waiting for you at the end, my subscription page began to grow...ever so slightly.

But I needed more content. My goal was at least one post a week, and my posts aren't just lil' blurbs and a photo or two of food. Oh no. The idea was to have at least a dozen full color photos and the writing was to be fluid and conversational with an emphasis on the food and, above all, to tell stories. I needed to have a different angle than most food sites, blogs and periodicals that I have come across in all of my pre-blog relaunch research.

The Tucson Homeskillet was to be broken down into two nouns and a verb: Food, Fun and Metal.

Seems simple enough. With those words emblazoned on the splash page it was time to hit the streets and get the lowdown on what is happening in the underground and hidden in plain sight food scene of Tucson.

One of the first features on the new site to get a few hundred hits

If I wasn't driving around town in different neighborhoods trying to find a hidden gem, I was online doing searches such as "worse burrito", "weirdest sushi", "scary place, good food". When I would find something of my liking, I, and oftentimes She-Ra or a close pal, would go out there and check it out. The results were sometimes awesome. occasionally tasty and even totally gross here and there.

Yes, I did find the worst burrito in Tucson. Blecch. That was a rough assignment.

Luckily I have a day job that allows me to research some of this when I am manning the front desk and it's slow enough. I've been working for the Pima County Library since 2012, a strange and welcome transition from my time as a chef and kitchen manager, but one that lets me utilize my background in literature and theater. For that I am grateful.

But because of the Tucson Homeskillet and my occasional blog post on the library's website, I am now known as the resident "food guy". Which is cool, but trying to answer everyone's question on where they should go to lunch can sometimes be a little, well...daunting. Because I don't know. Most librarians don't want to eat in dark dive bars or hunt for street tacos from a vendor in an abandoned lot somewhere.

Metal Mark works in a library to support his food blog habit (yes, I was on bus benches promoting the library's job help program for quite some right?)

So the design of the site was pretty good, better than the first installment. I had a proper web address. I made a Facebook page for the blog. Got me some business cards. When I contacted various food trucks, restaurants or bars to feature them on the site, most said yes, which was and is very cool. Unfortunately a decent amount said no or just never got back to me. Which is not so cool.

Here's one example of a rejection I got because the Tucson Homeskillet isn't so widely known:

A big charity organization that does a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless, was interested in me covering, at first, their preparation for the free feast, enough that I met with some of the higher ups and organizers in order to do so. Cool, I thought. Getting the word out about all of the hard work it takes to serve thousands of hungry and homeless people in Tucson seemed like an amazing article to me.

Then about a week before the event, I got an email from them. It basically said that after they reviewed the Tucson Homeskillet, I, and the site, were deemed "inappropriate" for what the charity stands for. Inappropriate? Really? It must be the Metal thing because nothing else on the Homeskillet is offensive or "inappropriate". I don't even curse on the site. Fxxk that. This is a family friendly food blog and for that I became even more disillusioned with the good Christian organization.

Not going to say who they are, but the bell ringers every Xmas outside of stores gives you an indication.

Still don't know? Um, they rhyme with Cralvation Blarmy.

Yeah. There you go.

The Tucson Homeskillet's first big break was covering the good folks at the Tucson Hop Shop which was the first time an article gathered over a thousand hits

It wasn't until I happened to find a tucked away beer shop that things began to change for me and the Tucson Homeskillet.

Up a few blocks from our favorite bar, a new place called The Tucson Hop Shop opened up. Run by a husband and wife team, the beer venue sits among the art encampments in the Metal Arts Village off Dodge Blvd. and was only open a few short weeks when I pulled up and checked it out. The Hop Shop was really cute, had a great beer selection and the fact that it was 100% local made me contact them the minute I got home. When asked for an interview and feature, both Jessie and David, who own and run the shop, agreed to be a part of the Tucson Homeskillet.

Within a few days after posting the article I had hit the 1,000 views mark.

Wow, I thought. People are actually reading my stuff. Thanks to the Tucson Hop Shop, my goofy food blog was starting to get recognized.

But the next one I posted, something about holiday gift giving, didn't even come close to 1,000 views. So that knocked me down a bit. Although right after that I did a feature on the food truck American Flying Buffalo and, boom!, I was back in the thousands again.

Then not much. Then not much again. Then something slightly better. So on and so forth.

It became very clear that it depends on who shares my posts and how I promote each piece that gets the biggest hits.

I'm still learning this whole online promotion thing.

I just want to eat, drink and write about it. The rest I am totally winging it.


This logo will soon be everywhere

One day in early 2016, as I was checking my email, I found a glorious message with an attachment on it. My good pal Josh Cicci, who is a cartoonist and comedian, drew up a rough sketch of what will soon become our new logo. Yes the one right above all of this. Look up!

"I love your blog," Josh said, "so I thought you'd like this."

Yeah, he just drew it up one afternoon, scanned it and sent it my way. It is beautiful and with a little finesse and clean up we can do great things with it.

Now here comes the funny part.

Lately I have been getting business "mail" with letters and such all addressed to not just me but to the Tucson Homeskillet.

Oh yeah. Ever since we went dot com I have received catalogs aimed at (get this) the shipping and distribution manager for the Tucson Homeskillet. Shipping and distribution? Manager? Guys I sit in my underwear uploading food photos then writing clever copy on a crappy laptop in my living room as the cat tries to jump in my way hoping that, maybe, a few folks might click on the link and read my stuff.

Shipping and distribution manager indeed. Love it.

The best is getting these random business "credit cards" with my name and the Tucson Homeskillet etched out in raised yellow letters and numbers. What the heck is National Funding anyway? Total scam I'm sure but, man, they really want me to start an account with them. For now, my one debit and one credit card is all I need to buy locally produced beer and the signature dish from a food truck parked in a dusty lot.

Here and there I get free product when I chat them up but for the most part I have to budget in food and drink costs. So the Tucson Homeskillet is more than just a's an anti-profit! Whee!

Whatever. I love what I do and I'm just glad that some of you out there appreciate what we do and read and share our wacky little website.

Thanks for that. If it wasn't for you all in Tucson (and beyond!) the Homeskillet wouldn't be what it is today. Heck, I'd probably shut it all down and try to write another book.

Naw. Screw that...this is too much fun!

Because book writing suuuuuucks.

Yeah, credit cards and business proposals for a blog that makes absolutely no money...sweet

So the first year of the new Tucson Homeskillet has been an amazing one. We are still learning, still evolving and are always up for a new challenge.

It's fun to go back in time to the first few posts, from like 2011-13 and see how the page has developed and improved. Heck, even the first few from the revamp in '15 were kind of wonky and archaic, but it was a step in the right direction.

The goal, for now, is a new post every Friday (which is a chore seeing as I am doing this, almost, by myself with a full time job and a life..sort of) and to deliver something worth reading, worth looking at and above all worth getting you out there to try some delicious food and drink. The Tucson Homeskillet may be home grown and relatively small, but we are having way too much fun to care. With our good friends and readers such as you all we can do is keep doing what we are doing, keep moving up and moving forward and hopefully we will ride along with the other bigger food sites, blogs and periodicals here in town (and beyond!) as a contributing member of what truly counts in life:

Food, Fun and, of course, Metal.

Thank you Homeskilleteers for making this the best year ever! Just keep reading and, more importantly, just keep eating.


She-Ra and Metal Mark doing what they do best...thanks everyone!

Some Camera, Mostly Typing and Often Remembering
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Monsoon Season, 2016

Metal Influence:

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