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El Gato Azul Owner Committed to Community Service, Philanthropy

If you ask Barry Barbe, popular Prescott philanthropist and restaurant owner, he will tell you the best way to raise money for a charitable cause is to go dancing.

That is what Barbe is planning to do on April 13, when local celebrities team up with professional dance instructors for a night of “Dancing for the Stars” to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona.

Barbe says the singular purpose for what has become a popular community event is to generate income to support life-altering programs for youth in the Quad Cities area. “I want to do my part to help the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona provide a safe and positive environment for six- to 18-year-old children all through the year.”

Barbe said he and his professional dance partner, Carie Hughes, will join nine other couples in dancing.

Last year, Dancing for the Stars raised about $220,000 for the charitable organization. Barbe hopes this year will result in even more.

Barbe, who owns and often serves as chef in the acclaimed El Gato Azul restaurant at 316 W. Goodwin in downtown Prescott, is widely known as one of the most generous and community-oriented people in Prescott.

Named “Community Philanthropist of the Year” in 2014 by the local affiliate of the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF), Barbe has been acknowledged by Carol Chamberlain, local ACF administrator, as an exceptionally generous community member.

That is evidenced by Barbe’s membership on many of the non-profit boards where he has served or is serving, including the ACF, Prescott Habitat for Humanity, the Coalition for Compassion and Justice (CCJ), the Sunrise Lion’s Club and others.

Barbe is described by many of his close associates as always smiling and positive in his outlook about the community. “We who are lucky enough to live in the Prescott area are blessed to have a genuinely caring community surrounding us. The spirit I find throughout the area is inspiring to me,” he said.

Barbe says he wishes he could do more. “I take a look at what some of the non-profit organizations and their leaders do – people like Jessie Hans at CCJ, Brad Newman with Yavapai Exceptional Industries, Diane Iverson and Fritzi Mevis at People Who Care and others. Look how Mike Fann, through his in-house charity FEMAD at Fann Contracting, and Becky Ruffner and all she does – and Courtney Osterfelt and Teen Launch Pad. I wish I could do as much as they do. My wife and I are inspired by people who make a positive difference.”

Years ago, the Barbes founded “Gato Gives,” an internal account where employees can contribute funds for various community charities. The Barbes match, dollar for dollar, the money staff members give. Every six months, they and employees sit down to decide what local groups warrant financial support. They then divvy up what they have collected. In 2018, “Gato Gives” distributed more than $11,000.

“I grew up in a small town in Ohio,” said Barbe. “The attitude was that we all needed to care for our neighbors. It became a part of me, that we are responsible for each other. If we’re a bit more fortunate than some, we need to share what we have.”

Barbe met Lori in 1992 when they were working at a hotel in Hilton Head, South Carolina. He said they both agreed, even then, that when possible they would give a portion of whatever they had to help others.

“We’ve kept that pledge and we’ve been married 25 years.”

A graduate of the highly-acclaimed culinary program at Johnson & Wales University (Providence, Rhode Island), Barbe is genuinely pleased at the support El Gato Azul receives from the public. “We hope when our customers come through the doors, they realize we want to be friendly and provide excellent meals in a pleasant environment. Our niche – emphasis on tapas [light snacks or appetizers] – is intended to create an atmosphere of sharing, caring and communal-style dining. It’s an extension of what Lori and I believe, that we need to look out for others and care and share.”

If you had a million dollars to give away, where would it go?

“That’s easy. My wife and I would start a foundation to support early childhood education.” Lori is the director of the pre-school education program at American Lutheran Church.

What’s the best advice you ever received, and from whom?

“I am inspired by people who lead by example and volunteer to help others. Just observing others who do that is, in a sense, a form of positive advice.”

What characteristic do you admire most in other people? 

“Absolute honesty – in others, and in myself.”

What’s your favorite kind of music? 

Here’s one for you – the Goodwin Street Gang. I’m in a five-piece group, and we perform jazz, standards and contemporary. I also sing tenor.

What’s the best thing about being in Prescott?

“We’re so lucky here to still have locally owned and operated stores and businesses. That helps us sustain the hometown atmosphere that Prescott is so famous for.” QCBN

By Ray Newton, QCBN

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