Why Colorado Springs is a Great Place to Open a Restaurant

A new generation of entrepreneurs are mining their fortunes in eclectic eateries and swanky brewpubs and bistros.

On Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - 17:13

In 1871‚ the incredible beauty of what is now Colorado Springs caught the fancy of railroad entrepreneur and Civil War veteran Gen. William Jackson Palmer during his travels. He wrote home to his wife‚ “Could one live in constant view of these grand mountains without being elevated by them into a lofty plane of thought and purpose?”

Inspired‚ Palmer bought land here and laid out ground plans for the city of his dreams; his work led to the area becoming a major resort community where visitors basked in endless sunshine‚ sipped pure spring water and sought solace in the mountains.

Through the years‚ as Colorado Springs continued to prosper‚ miners‚ ranchers‚ farmers‚ railroad men and several families‚ including women and children‚ all came here with hopes of finding their fortunes. Many did. Today‚ a new generation of trailblazers – young entrepreneurs – is staking out territory and mining their fortunes in eclectic eateries and swanky brewpubs and bistros.

From Student to Successful Businessman

Johnny Nolan‚ 36‚ worked for a decade at The Ritz Grill‚ earning many “best bartender” accolades in local media reader’s polls before opening SouthSide Johnny’s at 528 S. Tejon St.

“We picked this location because we just had a really good feeling about the south end of downtown‚” he says. “The rents are a bit cheaper down here. I like the building we’re in‚ and the parking’s great.”

Since his June 2002 opening‚ Nolan has watched three other businesses open nearby‚ and he sees other indications that SoDo is growing.

SouthSide Johnny’s draws customers with a snacks-to-steaks menu‚ pool tables and live music ranging from blues to hard-hitting rock. The business is already expanding due to its success; Nolan added 2‚400 square feet of dining space in December 2003.

Great Gathering Places

Another SoDo entrepreneur‚ 30-year-old Alexius Weston‚ opened Shugah’s Bar Café Espresso two years ago at 702 S. Cascade St. Weston’s father was in the military‚ and during one of his assignments Weston spent her last two years of high school in Colorado Springs. After college and jobs in Seattle and Denver‚ she returned to the city to be near family.

“I just kinda started dreaming up this concept that I felt was in great need here‚” she says. “I had watched the Springs grow and change‚ and I didn’t know of any place that was little and interesting and intimate where I could go by myself and be totally comfortable.”

So she created one. Open from 9:30 a.m. until midnight‚ with a full bar and an eclectic menu reflecting Weston’s multicultural upbringing‚ Shugah’s has quickly become a great place to pop in for breakfast or lunch or to stop after work for a glass of wine. Although it only seats 35‚ Weston packs in character with estate sale furnishings and a popular wall of art‚ on which a single work by a local artist is hung for a two-week period. She has also put an old typewriter into each bathroom. Patrons type away‚ and Weston pulls out filled sheets daily.

“ So far‚ I have three volumes of bathroom type‚” Weston says. “It is so neat to see what people are talking about – the war‚ their lover. I have the volumes on display for people to flip through.”

Fun on Tap

A newer Colorado Springs establishment where good food meets good times is McCabe’s Tavern, which was opened by Greg Howard three years ago. “I named it after my mom, Mary McCabe,” Howard explains. “I grew up in New York, and since I moved west, I missed those New York taverns that were comfy and friendly and had good food.” So Howard created a New York- and Irish-themed tavern in Colorado Springs. It was an instant hit. “We have 12 beers on tap, three of which come from a local brewery, and we have traditional Guinness and other Irish and English beers,” Howard says. “I try to support the local economy as much as possible by buying local beer, buying bread from a local baker and buying produce from local farmers.” McCabe’s Tavern’s menu features Irish fare such as corned beef and cabbage and shepherd’s pie, as well as sandwiches you would find in a New York deli. “Our Reuben is the best in the world,” Howard says. “Lots of places make Reubens with bought corned beef. We cook ours for nine hours and chop it instead of slicing it. It’s served on thick-cut marbled rye bread and comes with vegetables, onion rings, fries or mashed potatoes.” McCabe’s is already a favorite gathering spot for sports fans and musicians. Open mic nights showcase local talent on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.