Before moving to Tucson, Donna DiFiore was a probation officer living in Massachusetts. A friend told her about plans to go on a 2 1/2-month-long trip around the country—ending in Tucson.
"I just said, 'You know what? I don't like my job. I'm going to come with you for the journey, hang out in Tucson for a vacation, then come home,'" DiFiore recalled. "I arrived here—it was Halloween Eve in '76—and everybody was wearing shorts, and it was just gorgeous."
DiFiore said she kept calling her parents to say she was staying longer—and she's been here ever since.
After her first job in Tucson managing a crafts store, Steve Seidlinger, at the time the owner of Delectables (and that crafts store), hired her to manage the restaurant. Although DiFiore's parents owned a bakery, she said she didn't necessarily think she would end up in the restaurant business—but that's exactly what happened.
DiFiore later became the owner of Delectables, in 1982.
"I would say the minute I walked in the door many years ago, (Delectables) changed that day, and still continues to evolve," she said. "I think when you own a business, it has to be a creative ongoing project, ready to evolve and change pretty much every minute."
DiFiore said Delectables—which started as Maudie's Pantry in 1973, and was renamed Delectables within about six months—became successful because she listened to her customers' suggestions. The restaurant used to have a small menu with items like cappuccino, espresso, and meat-and-cheese combinations, she said. But guests started asking about catering services, to-go options and larger platters.
Years ago, someone asked her why the restaurant didn't serve beer. "And it was like, 'Gosh, why don't we have alcohol?'" DiFiore said. "So just listening to the people who come in tends to change what you do. I love listening to people's ideas, and getting great ones."
As DiFiore puts it, Delectables doesn't have boundaries.
"We kind of just find good food and put it on the menu," she said. "There is something for everyone."
If someone comes in with a big family, there's a mixture of dishes from many different cultures from which to choose. The Delectables menu includes Italian food like lasagna, spaghetti-and-meatballs, French crêpes, and good ol' American hamburgers.
"We don't fit in any category," she said. "Right now, we've been experimenting with a meatloaf sandwich, and we pretty much have that nailed. Part of my concept of how I choose things is: I like to find the best of something," she said.
For people on Segway tours, Delectables serves "Shake, Rattle and Roll" milkshakes. "I buy a very exquisite French vanilla ice cream, and I bought the authentic shake glasses," DiFiore said.
The restaurant has nine cooks and a chef who is "a very creative foodie," DiFiore said.
Delectables also has an inimitable ambiance. The restaurant, originally at 532 N. Fourth Ave., moved in 1979 across the street to its current location at 533 N. Fourth Ave., in a building built in 1945 as a Harley-Davidson business, DiFiore said.
Much of Delectables' character comes from decorations and old furnishings hand-picked by Seidlinger. For instance, the cash register is from an old hotel in Santa Cruz, Calif.
DiFiore said she was told the restaurant's bar used to be a women's glove bar from the long-gone El Conquistador Hotel that was once on Broadway Boulevard.
Seidlinger "was and still is an incredible junker," and he "finds great stuff," DiFiore said. The 1898 McCray walk-in refrigerator is one of those pieces. When Seidlinger bought it, it was charred from a building fire, and "I thought he was an absolute lunatic," she said.
After Seidlinger stripped away the grime, he found that "the oak had never been burned," DiFiore said. "It's quite a beautiful piece."
One of the more interesting Delectables decorations is a wrought-iron fence with Masonic symbols at the top of the columns.
"I've got so many pieces in here that are pretty exquisite, and together, they make our ambiance just so charming," DiFiore said, laughing.
"What I love most about my job is that it has been different every day for the last 35 years," she said. "I never know what's going to happen when I walk through the door."