March 16, 2007

Café Columbine & Bakery draws unexpected crowd

When Robert Wilson, president of Columbine Health Systems, bought the former Steele’s Market property at Market Centre at 802 W. Drake Road in Fort Collins, he was not quite sure what he wanted to do with it.

“He did know that he didn’t like all the noise the grocery store delivery trucks made,´ said Christopher Barrett, general manager of the newly opened Café Columbine & Bakery. “So he bought the property and held on to it until he could figure something out.”

Café Columbine, Market Centre Medical Equipment & Supplies, Market Centre Rehabilitation Services and Lifestyle Centre, plus a distribution center and employee resource center, are parts of Wilson’s equation so far. Each piece supports the health system, and together they allow Wilson to control his costs.

“The original idea was that the Café Columbine & Bakery would support the health systems here in Fort Collins,” Barrett said. “There are 1,200 employees who work here and residents who live independently. But what has happened in the four months we have been open is that 80 percent of our business is from the public. That’s good, but we didn’t expect it.”

The other thing that Barrett did not expect was the instant popularity of the conference and banquet space.

“We’re getting a lot of people who were having meetings at the Senior Center. Here we can provide the catering on site,” he said. “I had to hire an event coordinator because that part was just too busy for me to handle.”

The banquet menu is extensive, with everything from breakfast buffets to a “chocolate lovers break,” pasta bars for lunch and pistachio-crusted halibut for dinner.

“Our chef, Ernie Post, has worked for the Marriott and for Chef Prudhomme,” Barrett said. “He was at the Eaton Country Club, but he wanted to be closer to Fort Collins, where he lives.”

In his career, Barrett has opened a lot of restaurants, including Red Robins, and managed more – Bisetti’s in Fort Collins and Estes Park’s famous Stanley Hotel’s food and beverage, among others. But opening Café Columbine and the banquet rooms, all 14,000 square feet of them, was an entirely different experience.

“The first thing I did was throw out all the deep fryers. We have no trans fats,” he said. “Because people here have special dietary requirements, we have lots of good-tasting sugar-free desserts. And then we have some that are pure indulgence. It’s a real balancing act.”

Barrett explained that the bakery part of Café Columbine & Bakery has yet to come into full operation, but when it does, it will bake for all the Columbine facilities including the café and for the public.

“We will become a full-blown bakery this month,” he said. “We will bake our bread with no preservatives or salt and can make specialty bread for special orders with 24 hours’ notice. Of course, our bakers who went to culinary school want to create beautiful buttercream cakes. We’ll do that, too.”

The Hobnobber

When longtime restaurateur Mike Hood and his two partners, chefs D.J. Nagle and Dan Chrzanoski, signed on with the Town Square at St. Michaels in Greeley, they came with not one concept, but two: The Harvest Modern Country Kitchen for comfort food served family-style and The Hobnobber Tavern. The Harvest opened in November. The Hobnobber makes its debut this month.

“We want this tavern to feel like an English, Scottish or Irish public house built in 1900 that was remodeled sometime in the 1940s,” Hood said. “It is intended to be a gathering place that is family-friendly.”

Hood noted that the hottest trend in mall development involves creating spaces where people can meet and socialize.

“The tavern has darts and shuffleboard,” he said. “The bar is handmade and took six months to complete; it’s beautiful. For the kids, there’s a root beer wall with five different kegs of root beer. They can have their own mugs and fill them up.”

For adults who might want to pass on the root beer, chef Nagle said that along with great pub food – stew, sandwiches, even pizza – the Hobnobber will feature Bass, Guinness, Harp and Boddington’s ales, along with local microbrews and other Colorado beers.

“After a hard winter, people are ready to get out and socialize,” Nagle said. “It will be nice.”

Short Bites

If it’s spring, it must be time for cooking classes at The Cupboard on College Avenue in Fort Collins. “They are filling up fast,´ said owner Carey Hewitt. “You can view a full list on the Web site, www.thecupboard.net, but you need to register either at the store or by phone – (970) 493-8585.”

So branch out a little and learn a few culinary tricks from Vietnam, India (veg and non) and Germany or how to pair wine with Asian fusion cuisine. Wine classes are held nearby at Jay’s Bistro or the Stonehouse Grille.

Jane D. Albritton is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

When Robert Wilson, president of Columbine Health Systems, bought the former Steele’s Market property at Market Centre at 802 W. Drake Road in Fort Collins, he was not quite sure what he wanted to do with it.

“He did know that he didn’t like all the noise the grocery store delivery trucks made,´ said Christopher Barrett, general manager of the newly opened Café Columbine & Bakery. “So he bought the property and held on to it until he could figure something out.”

Café Columbine, Market Centre Medical Equipment & Supplies, Market Centre Rehabilitation Services and Lifestyle Centre, plus a distribution center and…

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