Taso Tirkas: Co-Owner of Salut, Co-Founder of Ufficient

Taso Tirkas, co-owner of Salut and co-founder of Ufficient, photographed at Salut, by Nicki Escudero

Taso Tirkas, co-owner of Salut and co-founder of Ufficient, photographed at Salut, by Nicki Escudero

Taso Tirkas
twitter.com/SalutKitchenBar

Walk into Salut Kitchen Bar in Tempe, and you’ll soon encounter Taso Tirkas. The 33-year-old Tempe resident from Cypress co-owns the restaurant, and is constantly seen milling about the space chatting up diners and drinkers and charming them with his enthusiasm and worldliness. The spot has quickly become a Tempe stand-out since its opening last year for good reason — the menu blends cuisines into tasty handcrafted offerings, the beer and wine selection is plentiful, with more than 100 wines offered, and the atmosphere is both relaxed and classy.

While Tirkas is thrilled with the success of Salut, he’s also working on a new venture, a mobile application called Ufficient, which puts users directly in touch with a variety of service providers and allows users to vet them before hiring by perusing reviews and making sure they’re appropriate for the job. The app is currently in beta testing, and Tirkas is confident it will also be a hit.

Read on for how he’s created his businesses, and check out a video of him talking about his favorite reasons for living in the Valley below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I came here to go to ASU for business and marketing when I was 22. I’m from the island of Cyprus, a small island close to the Middle East on the Mediterranean Sea, close to Greece, Turkey and Egypt.

I came here because my brother, cousin and uncle were at ASU. I was choosing between London and ASU for college and had never been to the States. I was at an American college over in Cyprus, the University of Indianapolis, so I was able to transfer all my credits. I had been to London before and didn’t want to go there, because it’s very moody weather. Continue reading

Matt Winkler: Six-Time Arizona Table Tennis Champion

Matt Winkler, instructor at Table Tennis & More, photographed at his training facility in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Matt Winkler, instructor at Table Tennis & More, photographed at his training facility in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Matt Winkler
twitter.com/MattTtplayer23

Whether you’re looking to beat that guy in the office who just always seems to dominate the ping-pong table, are in need of a great workout, or really want impress your clan with your table tennis skills at your upcoming family reunion, Matt Winkler can help. The 29-year-old Phoenix resident is the best table tennis player in the state, with the highest table tennis rating and having won the state table tennis championship six times in a row. He even got to teach Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic a thing or two this year for a video for Sprint, and he hopes to train more professional athletes to help them with their coordination. He also counts comedian Frank Caliendo as a client he regularly coaches.

The USA Table Tennis-certified national level coach ranks in the top 200 of United States-born men, and he has competed in tournaments in California, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida, including the US National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas every year, and the US Open Table Tennis Championships. He teaches through his business Table Tennis & More, founded by his dad.

See him in action at his next tournament, Sunday, July 27 at Phoenix Table Tennis Club, which is open to the public. Winkler explains why he’s passionate about ping-pong, as well as names his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised here. I went to Central High School and got a business management degree from ASU. Continue reading

Alexi DeVilliers: Creator of Fishliptz Sculptures

Alexi DeVilliers, founder of Fishliptz, photographed at his home in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Alexi DeVilliers, founder of Fishliptz, photographed at his home in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Alexi Devilliers
facebook.com/Fishliptz

Alexi DeVilliers started his career with wanting to feed the homeless. The 48-year-old Tempe resident creates unique sculptures, such as robots and dogs, made out of cans formerly containing food used to cook meals for those in an elderly shelter. As an artist, he goes by Fishliptz, which he’s been devoted to full-time since November. His art is sold everywhere from Method Art Gallery in Scottsdale and SunDust Gallery & Art Center in Gilbert, to Ian Russell Gallery of Fine Art in Prescott, Arizona, Pop Gallery in Sante Fe and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.

Find him  on 4th St. and Roosevelt for every First Friday Artwalk in downtown Phoenix, and read more about how he merges his passion for creating art with helping others, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m from Miami, and 9/11 brought my wife and I here around 13 years ago. My wife worked for the airlines, and I worked for a sprinkler company. After 9/11, they started to lay people off and gave her a severance package. We were going to come here to visit my friend John for his 40th birthday, and we said, “Let’s just move.”

I was born in New York, and my parents were born in Cuba. We moved to Florida when I was 5. Continue reading

Lisa Starry: Founder of Scorpius Dance Theatre

Lisa Starry, founder of Scorpius Dance Theatre, photographed in her studio in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Lisa Starry, founder of Scorpius Dance Theatre, photographed in her studio in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Lisa Starry
twitter.com/scorpius_dance

For 15 years, Lisa Starry has brought spooky vampires, passionate lovers and aerial flyers to local stages, all of who know how to groove. As founder of Scorpius Dance Theatre, Starry has choreographed and directed dancers at worldwide performances, with her company of more than 20 dancers, as well as aerial performers.

The 44-year-old Phoenix resident is also helping shape the future of the local dance scene, as co-founder and Associate Head of School of Metropolitan Art Institute (Metro Arts). In-between her day job and coming up with new moves for Scorpius, she teaches modern dance for Scorpius and the public Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. in the studio at Metro Arts.

See her work this weekend as Scorpius Dance Theatre performs Catwalk, with music by Duran Duran, Friday, July 11 and Saturday, July 12 at Phoenix Theatre. Find tickets here. Starry explains how she started her company below, and you can watch a video of her name her five favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents moved here when I was 11. I went to Central High School, then studied at the Phoenix School of Ballet before going to California Institute of the Arts to get my degree in dance choreography. I was born in Dover, Delaware. Continue reading

Julianna Curtis: Co-Founder of Scandalesque, aka Lady Fontayne

Julianna Curtis, Lady Fontayne and co-founder of Scandalesque and Vega Arts & Entertainment, photographed at Heritage Square, by Nicki Escudero

Julianna Curtis, aka Lady Fontayne and co-founder of Scandalesque and Vega Arts & Entertainment, photographed at Heritage Square, by Nicki Escudero

Julianna Curtis
twitter.com/Scandalesque

Julianna Curtis knows the power of a confidently sexy move, whether it’s the swing of the hips or a strut down a stage. Seductive dance doesn’t just entertain, it empowers those who do it, invigorating them with poise and assurance that translates off-stage, too. As co-founder and performer Lady Fontayne of Scandalesque, and co-founder of Vega Arts & Entertainment, Curtis has been entertaining Valley burlesque lovers for more than a decade, with highly polished choreographed shows and stunning dance moves at events around town and across the country.

Curtis, a 34-year-old Phoenix resident and massage therapist-by-day, disperses a roster of more than 50 performers to Valley events, with quarterly Scandalesque shows that command huge crowds. Scadalesque also offers classes, including burlesque, pole, aerial and stretch/dance conditioning.

You can catch Curtis in action at a Sexy Sci-Fi show by Scandalesque at Phoenix Center for the Arts Friday, September 26 and Saturday, September 27.

Read on for what inspires this beauty to share her talents with the Valley, and scroll down to watch a video of her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born in Mesa, the seventh child in a family of eight. I went to Gilbert High School and attended Scottsdale Community College. I got into the modern dance company at SCC and two other modern dance companies there after. I have been a vocalist in several bands and started my companies here.

Now that I’m a mommy, and my daughter starts pre-school and my son starts kindergarten this August, I know Phoenix will be a home base for me for years to come. Continue reading

Tracy Perkins: Founder of Strawberry Hedgehog

Tracy Perkins, owner of Strawberry Hedgehog vegan soaps and beauty products, photographed at her headquarters in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Tracy Perkins, owner of Strawberry Hedgehog vegan soaps and beauty products, photographed at her headquarters in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Tracy Perkins
facebook.com/StrawberryHedgehog

Tracy Perkins was sick — literally — of the beauty products she was used to. The longtime vegetarian-turned-vegan turned her frustration for animal testing and health issues caused by mainstream brands into creating her own soaps in 2003. After popular demand for her soaps from friends and family, she launched her business Strawberry Hedgehog in 2007, while balancing life as an adjunct geology professor.

The 32-year-old Phoenix resident has seen her business take off, now selling her products around the world and in Whole Foods across Arizona. She’s still an adjunct professor at Phoenix College but is looking to expand her business from a one-woman show to a bigger operation. Read about some of her products here, and meet her for a distilling workshop Thursday, July 17, from 6-9 p.m. at her Phoenix headquarters.

Learn how she crafts her handmade wares below, and keep scrolling to watch her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley, too.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was a Navy brat, and my dad got stationed in Yuma around ’90. I came up to Phoenix to go to ASU in ’99. I got my undergrad degree in women’s studies and religious studies, and my Master’s is in geological science.

I was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, then lived in Key West, Florida before moving here. Continue reading

Steve Weiss: Founder of No Festival Required

Steve Weiss
facebook.com/NoFestivalRequired

Some of the best films shown in the Valley come courtesy of Steve Weiss, whose No Festival Required film showings have brought cutting-edge and impactful independent movies to art galleries and theaters across the Valley since 2002. The 58-year-old Phoenix resident is a photographer who also worked professionally in the film world, and started NFR when he saw a need for high-quality film showings. Now, he’s the resident programmer at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts and is working on series at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

This week, you can catch two of his events. The first, Thursday, June 19, starts at 7:30 p.m. at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts and includes two films about American suburban living, Gimmie Green and Wagonmasters. Then, Sunday, June 22 at 1:30 p.m., he shows Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Read on for where his passion for film comes from, and keep scrolling to hear him name five of his favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised here. My parents came here in the late ‘40s when my father became the first full-time dentist at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. My parents were initially interested in Arizona and moved from New Jersey to come here.

I went to Camelback High School and got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from ASU. Other than living in Phoenix and attending ASU, I went to San Francisco Art Institute for a year and then returned there after I got out of ASU in 1978 for a total of three months. I’ve been back here ever since. Continue reading

Marcelo Dietrich: Filmmaker, Writer/Director of ‘The Horologist.’

Marcelo Dietrich
twitter.com/MarceloDietrich

Marcelo Dietrich loves telling stories, teaching, and inspiring, and he does it all through movies, as a screenwriter, director and actor.

The 37-year-old Chandler resident recently released a documentary on a talented 16-year-old dancer with Asperger syndrome, in partnership with Dancers and Health Together, Inc., called Dance Your Asperger’s Off. The touching documentary brings awareness to what it’s like to have Asperger’s, and how art such as dance can positively affect someone with special needs.

This Saturday, June 14, he premieres a short film, The Horologist., as an Official Selection at the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival. The film is a condensed version of the first act of a feature-length screenplay of the same name, and Dietrich hopes the short film can be used to get funding for the feature-length.

Dance Your Asperger’s Off is also at the fest on Saturday, June 14. Find more information about the film festival here, and keep reading to see what drives Dietrich, who has written, produced or directed more than a dozen films and documentaries. Keep scrolling to see him talk about his favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents moved here from Thermal, California when I was 3 years old, and I grew up in Tempe. Continue reading

Bob Brenly: Arizona Diamondbacks Broadcaster, Former Manager

Bob Brenly, Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster and former Arizona Diamondbacks World Series-winning manager, photographed at Chase Field, by Nicki Escudero

Bob Brenly, Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster and former Arizona Diamondbacks World Series-winning manager, photographed at Chase Field, by Nicki Escudero

Bob Brenly
twitter.com/DBacks

Bob Brenly helped create one of the coolest moments in Arizona history: when the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001, as manager of the team. His friendly demeanor and honest approach as a Diamondbacks broadcaster translated to the field as the leader for the championship-winning team, and now the 60-year-old Scottsdale resident is back in the booth, calling games as a color commentator for FOX Sports Arizona.

The former San Francisco Giants catcher offered his insight to this year’s Diamondbacks team and how he’s evolved as an announcer. Keep reading to see a video of him talk about his favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’ve been here since ’97, when I first took the job to come here and broadcast back in ’98. (Former Chicago Cubs announcer) Thom Brennaman was made the play-by-play voice here, and Thom and I had a relationship for years. He said, “Hey, why don’t we both go down to the desert and put the band together down there?”

That’s what brought me to Arizona, but, of course, I had been coming here for spring training since 1976 or ’77 (as a player), so I was familiar with the Valley, too. Continue reading

Nikki G.: Spoken Word Artist

Nikki G., Phoenix spoken word artist, photographed at Jobot Coffee in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Nikki G., Phoenix spoken word artist, photographed at Jobot Coffee in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Nikki G.
Facebook.com/NikkiGPoetry

Nikki G.‘s stage presence is hypnotic. The poet, who has performed all over the Valley, draws audience members in with passionate energy, giving her take on everything from sensuality to women’s issues. It’s no wonder she’s represented Phoenix on a national competition scale — her poetry is catchy, meaningful and animated.

The 38-year-old Phoenix resident and addiction therapist by day goes by Nikki G-Spot during her erotic performances, which are guaranteed to get you hot and bothered. She’s working on a book to be published at the end of this year, and has two professionally produced CDs available now — Erotic Symphony, Pt. 1: The Spoken Word of Nikki G. and Love, Lust & Heartbreak.

Catch her live at the HomeBase Poetry open mic every first Sunday at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel in Phoenix from 7-10 p.m. Check out her poetry at NikkiGPoetry.com, and listen to her works here. Read on for what inspires her work, and keep scrolling to watch her talk about her favorite parts about living in Phoenix.

What brought you to Arizona?

I moved to Arizona in 2005. I had come here on vacation and stayed at a resort in Scottsdale in 2004, and I thought everyone was so friendly. If someone would have told me I would have moved here years ago, I would have said, “You’re joking. There’s no way I would pick that place.”

I was born in Washington, D.C. My parents are Jamaican immigrants who met in the D.C. area. My mom moved to California, so I went back and forth between the East and West coasts.

I got my undergrad in psychology from Argosy University and worked in mobile crisis and a mental health hospital here in the Valley before getting my Master’s degree in forensic psychology. I enjoy working in all areas of mental health and have a passion for helping people. Continue reading