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Got to Be Real 

Chiropractor Brien Roussel and caterer Ron Wassell

Brien Roussel, proprietor of Backfire, Tucson's snazziest chiropractic cabaret and landslide write-in winner of Best Chiropractor, is describing the T-shirt he's designing for his business, which was a year old on September 10. At the kitchen counter, (non-business) partner Ron Wassell is incising mango quarters with a design of perfect cubes, as per the standard of his award-winning business, Blue House Catering.

"On the front," Brien motions, "the shirt says, 'Don't dream it ...' and on the back it says"--and we all join in on the climactic chorus from Rocky Horror Picture Show--"Don't dream it; be it."

There are some things you just know. Like the fact that no matter what these two do, it will a) come from the heart and b) have serious style.

Officially opened in March of 1996, Ron's Blue House Catering might have seemed a natural progression from his days as co-owner of the legendary Cafe Magritte downtown. Ron says no, he didn't have another business in mind when he sold his interest in the café. Then he adds, "But I already had three events booked before I invented the business."

Some things were meant to be.

Which can be as easily said about Backfire, "The Chiropractic Hot Spot," as the business card states. Opening the day before 9/11/2001 would seem an unfortunate choice, but Brien notes gratefully, "Everyone and their mother's brother turned out for me." The office, its deep lacquered red walls graced with original painting and welded sculpture, was this reader's vote for Best Gallery One Can View on One's Back.

Between the two of them they've served such names as Lily Tomlin, Sharon Stone, former mayor George Miller, our current UA president, Ann Hampton Calloway (who wrote the wedding song for Barbra Streisand), and many local arts luminaries, including Rich Hopkins (who get our vote for the Best Unexpected Appearance for his little dance at the Waldorf School benefit last spring).

Have Ron and Brien always had a gift for business? The question leaves them both silent, for a brief moment. Ron replies, "I always felt in the back of my mind that having one's own business was the way to go. Brien's hand was forced a bit when he was laid off at his previous gig."

Brien jumps in, "The thing is, I always wanted to do it. And I knew if ever I had the opportunity, I wanted to put a completely ..." He searches for his point, and finds it. "The healthcare profession as a whole is not known as a very comforting place. Any office you go to--dental, ObGyn, ophthalmologic, oncology--you walk in feel, you sense what there is to expect. That's what I wanted to change; I wanted someone to walk through the door and immediately have ... an almost frightening sense of comfort, the antithesis of what we expect from the medical field." And his office is frighteningly comfortable, from the Pop-up Book of Phobias coffee table book to Boris the fish, peeking out from between the lucky bamboo in his glass case.

Ron is from a small town near Pensacola, Fla., which has influenced him, he says, "not at all. What has influenced me is the fact that my dad was in the military and I have no roots. We were everywhere, Florida, California, Alaska, North Carolina, Seattle, Las Vegas, Tennessee, Yuma." He's an Aquarian--"a tumbling urn," Brien offers--who arrived here15 years ago with a degree in marketing, management and business administration and a vague notion of opening a catering business.

Brien is from New Orleans, a Cancer. He landed here in June 1991, "exactly 38 hours after I was handed my doctoral diploma." The school was "in Marietta, Georgia" (he's suddenly very Southern) "three miles away from the big chicken on South 41. That was the landmark. Seriously. If you were lost anywhere in the state of Georgia--you could be in freakin' Macon--and you just had to say 'Hey, can you get me back to the big chicken?' and everybody knows. It's like the Eiffel tower of the South."

Where Ron is a bit vague about why he moved here, Brien is certain: "I saw a postcard of a saguaro cactus when I was a kid, and that was it."

When asked what happened to the inspired Cobalt Eat-a-teria, their joint venture a few years ago, Brien is quick to answer: "Two guys, three businesses. You do the math."

There's no lack of good ideas here. Between the T-shirt design and mangos, tarot cards and queries put to the oracle Devil Ball, we sample various champagnes to a constant backdrop of Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin and Dusty Springfield. "I always, always play The Dark Side of the Moon on Sundays," Brien states resolutely.

They show me around the house they bought together in 1994. The bathroom has been enlarged and tiled, window seats installed, and decorative tile laid in the hall, where I'm asked to find the names of their pets--including a cat and Mona and Laverne, the chihuahuas--hidden in the crosshatched faux finish. They did most of the work themselves. Every window in the entire house has been replaced and landscapings come and go in glorious broad strokes. We end at the fireplace, a collaborative tile project. "Brien would break all the pieces, and I would fit all the pieces," says Ron. "And if they broke too clean I would personally hammer them so they would appear more natural," laughs Brien.

This is a typical Sunday at their California bungalow. A bit of fine food and drink, ambient music of diversity, a little drama/fun, a splash of metaphysics and a creative project.

Previous Winners

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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