Firehouse a hot draw for Windsor regulars

WINDSOR — Rick Mies, owner of the Firehouse Restaurant and Sports Lounge, was born in Greeley and grew up in the food-service industry. His father owned a bakery in town, and Rick worked there as soon as he was old enough to fill out a W-2 form.

In 1969, his dad moved the family and bakery to Windsor, where they’ve been ever since. In 1974, the bakery was relocated to its present location at 1164 Main St., and a cafe was opened up next door.

This was the original Firehouse, and after the third remodel (with much of the work completed by Rick himself) the restaurant still stands in its original location. The bakery is gone, replaced by a Sports Lounge, and the entire 320-seat operation is now run by Rick and his wife, Brenda.

The name Firehouse owes itself to the fact that most of the Mies family has been active in the volunteer firefighting efforts. Recently, Rick’s cousin became the first full-time paid firefighter in Windsor. Old firefighting memorabilia now line the walls, along with myriad other artifacts and antiques.

Now, when I was a kid, I was the victim of Iowan parenting. When your parents come from Iowa, you are constantly subjected to lengthy oration concerning topics such as: “Nobody around here knows how to grow a good tomato,” “People in the Midwest are just nicer” and the most common lecture, “I can’t believe we can’t find a pork tenderloin sandwich here like they make in Iowa.”

Well, Mom and Dad, head to Windsor. If the Firehouse is known for nothing else, it is known for its pork tenderloin. Rick got the recipe from an Iowan about 20 years ago and has had a custom standing order with his meat cutter since then. Dinner plate or sandwich, it’s really, really good. Pickles and mustard, just like the nice people used to have in Iowa.

And, like everything else on the Firehouse menu, the price is very low. Like jaw-dropping-on-the-table low. This suits the regulars just fine, and the Firehouse definitely has its share of regulars. They come in at predictable times, usually the same days every week.

I was reminded of “The Brick” on the dearly missed television show Northern Exposure. Lots of working folk, getting their coffee and drinks, chatting with their friends in town. The cozy atmosphere is so strong that you almost feel like you’ve broken into someone’s house when you walk in for the first time.

This “Town Hall” feeling is a real asset for the Firehouse. Local businesses hold their breakfast and lunch meetings there, people meet there before and after local events, and various ceremonies are held in the private banquet room. Rick said that Eastman Kodak Co. has also provided a consistent customer flow.

This sense of community accounts for the fact that Rick doesn’t advertise. He and Brenda volunteer their time and food to local school activities, little league, seniors events – anything that helps the small town and gets the name out.

Rick is fiercely proud of this “mom-and-pop” business ethic and laments the fact that his restaurant is one of a dying breed. Pointing to Fort Collins, he voiced his concern that corporate chains are about the only ones that can afford to open a restaurant in the current financial environment.

Rick and Brenda pay a price for their freedom and community spirit. One of the two is almost always at the restaurant, which is open from 5 in the morning until 9 or so at night. I asked if they ever even saw each other, and he said that although that part was rough, it was important for him to know that one of them would always be home when the kids got back from school. A nice sentiment, to be sure.

About 2 1/2 years ago, the Sports Lounge was opened and has been a popular watering hole. Rick said that the best draws are the prize fights and Bronco games, but I’ve stopped there on my way home from work in Greeley and watched a few baseball games myself.

If you plan on dining at the Firehouse, a couple of caveats are in order. First, the nonsmoking section is really like a less-smoking section. There aren’t any active smokers in it, but the poor ventilation in the smoking section itself blurs the distinction between the two.

And secondly, no credit cards or debit cards. A small price to pay for the low food costs, I think. And if you feel like you’re intruding when you walk in, just come back a few times. They’ll get used to you.