A young visionary builds a life and community in Downtown Phoenix
“If you get too many potatoes, you’re going to have an overflowing cup and you’re going to pay for it, which I have in the past,” says a young woman in her mid to late twenties, nodding seriously. Suddenly, her brow unfurrows and her face relaxes into an acknowledging smile, eyes crinkling at the corners when she realizes that the metaphor she thought up at age 7 could be lost in translation.
Quinn Whissen, tall, slim and standing with a graceful ease, seems right at home in Lola’s Coffeebar on N. 3rd Ave in Downtown Phoenix. The café is abuzz with business, but this does not prevent a small catch-up between the blonde barista and Whissen.
“How’s the new place?” the young woman behind the marble countertop queries, tucking a blonde strand behind her ear while smiling and accentuating a miniature, tasteful nose ring.
Beaming warmly in response, Whissen reaches for the decaffeinated drink saying, “It’s incredible, we’ve got a big garden and there’s so much light, it’s really great.”
Describing how she and her boyfriend recently bought their dream condo and moved literally half-a-block down the road, Whissen opens her gold iPhone to show pictures of the loft space. Wood, open-face brick, and wrought iron greet the eye as sunlight pours through the tall windows framing the staircase. “My office area is like being in a tree house,” she chuckles, her dark blue manicured fingers swiping through pictures filled with natural light, the tops of green trees waving from every window.
Whissen, who is self-employed, adapts her job title as she goes along, describing herself best as a content marketing consultant and a graphic designer. Building up her business, not intentionally, through going to local coffee shops, Whissen muses that, “It’s all been kind of weirdly simple.”
She met her first client at a Coffee Bean, and then through frequenting places like Lola’s Coffeebar and Lux, her business grew from referrals and randomly meeting people. And, it was at a coffee shop three years ago that Whissen first met her boyfriend, Ryan Tempest.
His trip to Lux Coffee shop on a Friday afternoon was a chance occurrence, as the computer servers at his job were down, preventing him from working. Taking a routine stroll through the café to locate a seat, he noticed a free spot across from a girl with a cloud of curly, golden brown hair and decided to sit by her. After a few minutes of the pair working in silence, Tempest allowed a spare chair next to Whissen to be taken, resulting in her having to fetch another one shortly after because she was meeting with a client.
“I apologized to her for giving away the previous chair without her permission,” Tempest says, explaining that once the meeting began, he couldn’t help but do a little eavesdropping. He learned that Whissen was a graphic designer who made websites and ran her own business. “So, here’s a girl who’s in the design field, like me, and is intelligent and beautiful—I had to figure out a way to talk to her.”
Whissen began looking for a pen during the meeting, allowing Tempest the chance to jump at lending her his own. She smiled and replied simply, “This is my favorite kind of pen!” When the business meeting had finished, the two struck up a conversation and immediately hit it off.
“She offered me some of her chocolate chip cookie and I knew I was in,” Tempest says. “I asked if she wanted to go out that night, she accepted, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Smiling at the memory, Whissen’s expressive eyes sparkle as she credits Tempest with having a visionary personality, rattling off his many skills as an architect and trailing off with a cheeky laugh, saying, “And he’s really cute, so…it worked out!”
Two creative people like Whissen and Tempest are bound to think of and grow ideas together, but truthfully, the following the pair garnered by creating a community engagement and urban awareness group, This Could Be PHX, was unexpected.
“Ryan, because he’s an architect, had the idea of creating renderings of these vacant houses on 2nd Street and hanging the banners on the fences around them,” Whissen explains of their initial conversation in 2013. However, with her background in content marketing, the pair decided to create an entire platform to reach more people interested in the developments of Downtown Phoenix. Tempest did the renderings, Whissen built the website, and a momentum of fans catapulted the two into a prominent position in the community. “I guess,” Whissen says humbly, eyebrows raised, “we’re kind of considered leaders in the community, now, so it’s been really cool and a fun ride.”
Having grown up in Phoenix, the city was not always Whissen’s dream place to call home. Feeling that the area held no potential for her early aspirations to become an actress, Whissen moved to California and attended Loyola Marymount University, living “off and on” in Los Angeles for six and a half years, and spending about eight months in London studying in an acting program. During this time, Whissen fell in love with stage acting and “the whole kind of mind-body discipline” required for the craft; however, at the end of college, after her best but most demanding performance, Whissen said she stopped acting.
“I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up,” she clarifies. “It was the greatest learning experience and best major I could have had, and I still use all the skillsets, but I really wasn’t down for the whole waitressing and trying to get work, and for something I was kind of tired of.”
Whissen’s return to Phoenix was a fluke; after falling ill in Los Angeles, she returned to Arizona for a break. The downtown area had grown exponentially while she was away, and living on the new, light rail corridor while pursuing a 500-hour yoga certification sparked a newfound love for the growing city.
Whissen began focusing on engaging with her community, taking her many experiences visiting and living in other places into account when thinking of ways to improve Phoenix. As a child, Whissen’s mother, an educator and principal, and father, a lawyer, introduced her and her older sister to great cities like Paris, Rome and London, instilling a value for different cultures and ways of life.
“I’m always happy to travel,” Whissen says thoughtfully, her head tilted ever so slightly to one side. “But I don’t have as much of the travel bug anymore. I feel more settled. I kind of got all that out of the way and now am like, ‘Okay, how can I create a place that people would want to travel to?’”
Whissen’s time living abroad in a flat in central London was a full-on experience seemingly taken from any Anglophile’s dream. It introduced an urban lifestyle that she fell in love with, all while managing studies and an event-catering gig. But the most gob smacking experience was not attending polo matches, visiting Buckingham Palace, or even meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The most enthralling part of London for Whissen was the superb public transportation system.
“I’m such a nerd for public transit, I just think it’s awesome,” she laughs, “It was mostly the ease of being able to go anywhere quickly and not have to be behind a windshield going from place A to place B.” This mentality has served Whissen well, especially two years ago in Phoenix, when she returned to a broken-in apartment and stolen vehicle. While conceding that being car-free ever since has had its challenges, Whissen ultimately feels the experience has been okay.
“You just have to be intentional,” she says. “You centralize your life. I switched from a dentist and doctor in Glendale and North Phoenix to practices downtown. Why wasn’t it like that before? Why are we driving all over the city? Use people in the community.”
This sort of dedication to growing the Phoenix community is perhaps an element that contributed to Whissen’s recent placement by Mayor Greg Stanton on the newly formed City of Phoenix Citizens Transportation Commission. Overseeing the distribution of the funding provided by Proposition 104, which aims to offer $38 billion over the next 30 years to fund developments in the city, Whissen is in a position to bring about great change.
Chloe Brooks, an Arizona State University graduate, who during her senior year worked as an intern for Whissen through This Could Be PHX, describes her former boss as passionate, intelligent, and determined. “Quinn strikes me as someone who very much knows what she thinks but still is a good listener,” Brooks says. “She’ll hear you out, but she’s not someone who’s easily swayed and it’s a good quality. That’s probably why she was appointed, she doesn’t give up on things.”
Crediting Whissen with helping discover a job she really enjoys, Brooks, now employed by Scottsdale marketing agency, Loud Rumor, says earnestly, “I wouldn’t have the job I have now if it weren’t for Quinn—I don’t know if she knows that, but it’s so true.” Describing her job as content marketing, Brooks says it was something she never knew about until meeting and working with Whissen.
Managing the marketing of her client, Vertical Measures, a content managing company in Phoenix, Whissen in the past year has been representing the company at different conferences and teaching workshops around the country.
“The CEO and I tag-team it to different cities, teaching people about the process, but he travels for the company internationally as well,” Whissen explains, mentioning an 8-step process the company created that is essentially focused on search engine optimization.
“I’m really proud of Quinn for so many things,” Tempest comments, mentioning his opportunity to see his girlfriend present at the Digital Summit in Detroit back in September of 2015. There, standing on a stage before hundreds of people attending the two-day conference, in addition to leading a half-day intensive workshop, Whissen was a natural. “She’s been recognized for her public speaking skills and seeing her on stage made me so proud of her.”
Brooks, also praising Whissen’s enviable style and ease while presenting, says that Loud Rumor reads a lot of content put out by Vertical Measures. “I catch myself seeing her name and being like, ‘Ahh! I know her,’” Brooks exclaims with a cheery laugh. “I fan-girl for a minute or two!”
While open to figuring out the direction her business will take, Whissen is “just happy with how things are right now” in her life. Business is prospering, her personal life is happy, and she still has time to practice yoga and volunteer weekly for Free Arts of Arizona, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping neglected and homeless children.
Creating dream- catchers and talking about nightmares to a class of children, ages 5 to 6, is just an example of the types of activities Whissen leads. “I’ve always loved working with kids,” she says, “It’s not about arts and crafts, this is more about being their mentor and being there every week.”
Having volunteered for the mentor program over the past four to five years, Whissen initially began working with Free Arts when she was in high school, helping out at a summer camp. “Quinn is certainly a dedicated volunteer,” Ruth Farber, the Free Arts program director said, “I can’t begin to say how much we appreciate the time Quinn gives both to us and the Phoenix community.”
In seventh grade, came a time when Whissen could no longer serve as president of a club, and from this experience came a self-composed metaphor for time management and life balance. Unsure of what exactly inspired it, a young Whissen nonetheless told her teacher, “You have a jar. And you have three or four potatoes in it, but you can’t fill the whole jar with potatoes because there’s going to be a lot of air, so you have to fill the rest with rice.”
If there are too many potatoes, which represent important things in life, Whissen explains how one’s cup would overflow, causing an unbalance one would likely pay for, which she has done in the past.
Breaking into a laugh and resting her forearms on the table, Whissen says, “This is super metaphorical, but for me, the potatoes would be my business, This Could be PHX, my relationship, and maybe a smaller one, yoga. The rice would be community events or whatever brings happiness and fills time without being overwhelming. It’s about finding a variation of things that you enjoy doing, I think that’s the key of getting a good balance and being creative.”