Phoenix People Editor’s Note

Phoenix People Nicki Escudero

Thank you so much for reading Phoenix People! Over the past three and a half years, I have had the pleasure of interviewing nearly 200 amazing people living in the Phoenix area for this website. Each one brings a unique talent to the Valley and is making a wonderful impact through their work and passions. I have loved getting to know each one of them, including these top 10 most popular posts of all time: Continue reading

Jason Wyrick: Founder of The Vegan Taste and Vegan Chef

Jason Wyrick, vegan chef and cookbook author and founder of The Vegan Taste, photographed in central Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Jason Wyrick, vegan chef and cookbook author and founder of The Vegan Taste, photographed in central Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero


Jason Wyrick
www.thevegantaste.com

Adopting a vegan diet helped Jason Wyrick lose 100 pounds and reverse his diabetes, while learning about factory farming conditions has kept him passionate about the lifestyle. Wyrick, 42, from Glendale, founded The Vegan Taste, a vegan meal delivery service he runs with his wife, a fellow chef. Wyrick also creates vegan cookbooks, such as his Vegan Tacos, which is one of the world’s most comprehensive taco recipe cookbooks. You can even hire him as a private chef, and he plans international culinary tours.

Wyrick talked about his fervor for veganism and what he offers as a chef, and you can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents, when I was 4. I was born in Houston. My dad’s family all lived in Texas, and my mom’s family all lived in California, and they came to Phoenix because it was right in the middle.

I went to Apollo High School and have a degree in philosophy from Texas Christian University. Continue reading

Ashley Naftule: Actor, Improviser and Theater Performance Organizer

Ashley Naftule, actor, improviser and theater performance organizer, photographed at Desoto Central Market in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Ashley Naftule, actor, improviser and theater performance organizer, photographed at Desoto Central Market in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero


Ashley Naftule
www.ashleynaftule.com

For followers of the Phoenix community theater scene, Ashley Naftule is a constant fixture, whether he’s organizing shows like 7 Minutes in Heaven at Space 55, performing characters such as professional arm wrestler Thunderbolt Tsunami on stage, or presenting short plays he has written at events such as Phoenix Fringe. The 32-year-old Scottsdale resident constantly comes up with creative personalities and ideas for the stage to keep audiences entertained, and you can catch him next this Thursday, December 3, when he’ll be performing at the PEP (Phoenix Educational Programming) Rally variety show at Lawn Gnome Publishing in Phoenix. The show kicks off at 8 p.m., and this week’s theme spotlights vignettes about the occult.

Naftule, who works as a copywriter for marketing agency Loud Rumor during the day, is the “Czar of Limited Engagements” at Space 55, where he runs special events at the theater. He shared why he’s so passionate about the stage and the local theater scene, and you can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised here. My whole family is from France. My mom is from Algeria, and my dad is from Switzerland, and they moved to the States around 40 years ago and drifted here.

I was born in Phoenix, went to Horizon High School, and went to ASU for a few years. Continue reading

Natasha Duran-Lynch: Fashion Designer and Founder of Hues of Ego

Natasha Duran-Lynch, fashion designer and founder of Hues of Ego, photographed at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Natasha Duran-Lynch, fashion designer and founder of Hues of Ego, photographed at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale wearing a coat she designed, by Nicki Escudero

Natasha Duran-Lynch
www.huesofego.com

In just a few years, Natasha Duran-Lynch has catapulted to the center of the Phoenix fashion scene, winning Phoenix Fashion Week‘s Couture Designer of the Year title this year, after only graduating from fashion design school in 2012. Duran-Lynch has her own line, Hues of Ego, which focuses on blending structure with femininity.

You can catch the 32-year-old Scottsdale resident on home shopping channel EVINE Live early next year, where she’ll be selling some designs inspired by her award-winning line. Keep reading to learn the inspiration behind Duran-Lynch’s designs, and you can hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

My mom. We moved here when I was in high school. I’m originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she just didn’t see us being there any more.

I graduated from Highland High School and went to ASU, where I was studying for my master’s in architecture and a minor in design before attending Collins College. Continue reading

Michael Carson: Artist

Michael Carson, artist represented by Bonner David Galleries, photographed at his home in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Michael Carson, artist, photographed at his home in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Michael Carson
www.instagram.com/mcarson1999

Michael Carson’s paintings are pieces that transcend time, with figures that emanate classic cool, in muted colors that give the works an immortal feel. It’s amazing the 42-year-old Phoenix artist is self-taught, since he has collectors from around the world who have followed him since he pursued his professional art career a dozen years ago.

You can see an exhibition of more than 20 of Carson’s works starting this Thursday, November 19, at Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale. The Nefariousness exhibition includes some paintings on metal and runs through December 8.

Carson, who is also represented by Arcadia Contemporary in New York City, talked about what has inspired his latest collection and how he’s made it as a professional artist. You can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video below.

What brought you to Arizona?

Five years ago, my wife got a job opportunity. She didn’t want to take it, but I was in a spot in life where I needed to move some place. I had that need, that feel for travel, and I was selling out of a gallery in Scottsdale called Bonner David. It seemed like the stars aligned, and we took a chance and moved here in 2010.

I was born in Minneapolis and lived there basically my whole life until moving here. Continue reading

Kerrilynn Gallagher: Stand-Up Comedian

Kerrilynn Gallagher, stand-up comedian in the Phoenix area, photographed at Luci's Healthy Marketplace in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Kerrilynn Gallagher, stand-up comedian in the Phoenix area, photographed at Luci’s Healthy Marketplace in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Kerrilynn Gallagher
twitter.com/kergal14

Kerrilynn Gallagher brings uber-relatable comedy to Valley stages, tackling serious real world topics like entering your 30s and dealing with 401ks and giving them comedic spins that keep audiences laughing. The 30-year-old Paradise Valley resident just started sharing her stand-up with audiences this year, but she’s already established herself in the scene, performing in Flagstaff and at places such as Monkey Pants and Dos Gringos in Tempe and Chop and Wok in Scottsdale.

The comic, who works at a healthcare IT firm during the day, is competing in Stand Up Scottsdale‘s comedy showcase this Wednesday, November 11, at 7:30 p.m. Gallagher shared what inspires her sets and how she hopes to impact audiences, and you can hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

Like any girl, a guy I met brought me to Arizona. I went to ASU, played lacrosse and double-majored in psychology and marketing. While I was out here finishing my degree, I met an incredible guy who kept me out here.

I was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania — the greatest place on earth. Continue reading

Paul Sebastian Melendez: Founder of The Brand Smith Co., Graphic Designer

Paul Sebastian Melendez, photographed outside Sydney's Cafe & Market at Tempe Marketplace, whose graphic design he created with The Brand Smith Co., by Nicki Escudero

Paul Sebastian Melendez, photographed outside Sydney’s Café & Market at Tempe Marketplace, whose graphic design he created with The Brand Smith Co., by Nicki Escudero

Paul Sebastian Melendez
www.thebrandsmithco.com

Paul Sebastian Melendez is passionate about working with businesses to help them craft the perfect brand, which he helps them share with the masses through expert graphic design, web development, photography, printing, vehicle wraps and more. As founder of The Brand Smith Co., Melendez works with dozens of enterprises around the country to execute effective brand strategy, forming long-term relationships with those he works with so they always stay at top of mind in their fields. You can see his work at Sydney’s Café & Market at Tempe Marketplace and on dozens of food trucks in the Valley, and his clients include Barrett-JacksonBODI gym in Scottsdale, Superstition Springs Lexus, and Rockford Fosgate.

The 29-year-old Mesa resident shared what drives his entrepreneurial spirit and what he hopes to achieve with his clients. You can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born in the small town of North Adams in the beautiful Berkshires of western Massachusetts and moved to Arizona when I was 18, shortly after graduating high school. At the time, I wanted to broaden my horizons and go on an adventure, so I randomly picked a design school in Tempe called Collins College, where I got my Bachelor of Arts degree in graphic design. Continue reading

Raj Nijjer: VP of Community Relations at Yext, Angel Investor

Raj Nijjer, angel investor and VP of community relations at Yext, photographed at Malee's Thai Bistro in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Raj Nijjer, angel investor and VP of community relations at Yext, photographed at Malee’s Thai Bistro in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Raj Nijjer
www.twitter.com/RajNijjer

Raj Nijjer is a passionate believer in the power of technology to boost economies and communities. The 37-year-old Phoenix resident, who is VP of community relations at digital location management service Yext, is an angel investor who regularly partners with small-to-medium-size technology startups and advises them on how to grow their businesses.

Nijjer shared his thoughts on the Phoenix tech scene, as well as gave his advice for startups. You can also hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised in India, and I was 12 years old when we moved to America for the opportunity. The climate in Arizona was warm, and we came from a warm climate. The cost of living and opportunity was great outside of the usual immigrant stalwarts, like San Francisco, New York and L.A. We still wanted to be close to the coast, and we had a little bit of family here for some support.

I went to Shadow Mountain High School and graduated from Arizona State [University] several times. The first time was for a bachelor’s degree in computer science, then I went back and got a bachelor’s for international business.​ I did my MBA at ASU two years ago, which was such a great experience, and I now mentor undergrads. Continue reading

Ken Morrison: The Beer Czar

Ken Morrison, The Beer Czar blogger, photographed at Craft 64 in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Ken Morrison, The Beer Czar blogger, photographed at Craft 64 in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Ken Morrison
www.thebeerczar.blogspot.com

Ken Morrison is a craft beer expert whose passion for the frothy drink extends to his blog, where he talks about everything beer-related as the Beer Czar. The 42-year-old Gilbert resident, who works for Bank of America as an operations analyst for workforce management and staffing, touches on everything from how to cook with beer, to coverage on where to get local brews in the Valley.

Morrison shared more about why he’s so fervent about craft beer and gave his tips for brewskie beginners. You can also hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

Winter. I was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and grew up in northern Maine. My parents moved out here while I was in college in southern New Hampshire at Franklin Pierce College. The winter we had during my senior year of college was one of the worst winters on record. I was studying fine arts and education, and on my way to student teaching one day, I did a 360 in my car in the snow. I vowed to myself that was going to be the last winter I’d ever spend in New England. I moved to Arizona after I graduated and have been here ever since.

When I first came to Arizona, I was a teacher for a few years. I then moved into finance and have continued working in that field. Continue reading

Jake Poinier: Freelance Writer and Author of ‘The Smooth-Sailing Freelancer’

Jake Poinier
www.DoctorFreelance.com

Jake Poinier has experienced immense flexibility in his role as a freelance writer and editor for the past 16 years. The publishing guru works on projects ranging from penning web copy to ghostwriting books, and he’s self-published three of his own titles: The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid, Help! My Freelancers Are Driving Me Crazy!, and the recently released The Smooth-Sailing Freelancer: How to Find, Sell, and Retain More Freelance Business.

The 48-year-old Phoenix resident shares his knowledge of the freelancing world on his website, www.DoctorFreelance.com, where he is available to answer questions and creates blog posts focused on freelancing. He shared his tips for existing and aspiring freelancers, and you can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born in Boston and grew up in Massachusetts. After graduating college, I was working at a golf magazine called Golf Digest magazine in Connecticut. Two years later, I quit my job and attempted to ride my bike cross-country and was run over in Montana by a pickup truck, which cut that short. Even so, the first 1,100 miles introduced me to the beauty of the West’s mountains and desert.

After going back to Massachusetts after the accident, a guy who had left Golf Digest to become the editor at a magazine here in Arizona, called Golf Illustrated, called me. It was a classically awful New England night, 33 degrees and raining, and he said, “Hey, do you want to come to Arizona to be my managing editor?” I said, “What time is my flight?” I flew out and haven’t looked back since. Continue reading