October 9, 2007

Old Town openings go from retail to Rustic Oven

Commercial real estate folks know that vacant restaurant space gets snapped right up, while other kinds of vacant retail space do not. So putting a new bistro in what used to be home décor and sportswear stores is something of a surprise.

Working from a fresh palette is what owner and operating partner Todd Crisson had in mind when he leased the spaces on College Avenue in Old Town Fort Collins formerly occupied by Homefest and Daisy Sports for his new restaurant, The Rustic Oven: Bistro Americano.

“Rick Callan (managing broker with Everitt Commercial Partners) pushed us to come to Old Town,” Crisson said. “We looked at space where there used to be restaurants, but we decided that we wanted to be ‘that new restaurant in Old Town’ rather than the restaurant where some other place had been.”

Crisson’s experience on the business side of the restaurant industry runs wide, deep and 17 years long, beginning in his home state of Virginia.

“I started as a teenager working at Pizza Hut, then Ruby Tuesday and Silver Spoon,” he said. “In the last few years, I have opened up Maggiano’s and Biaggi’s all over the country. When I came to open the Biaggi’s in Loveland, I took a long look at Northern Colorado.”

He liked what he saw and set in motion plans for his own restaurant concept. Given Crisson’s experience with two of the nation’s largest chains of casual Italian white-tablecloth restaurants, he might have modeled his menu on familiar formulas. But no.

“I know what an Italian restaurant is about. The Rustic Oven isn’t one, but it does have an Italian flair,” he said. “Our executive chef, Joel Navejas, used to cook at the Crown Pub before he went to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He was the sous chef at Biaggi’s.”

Crisson is clear about the two elements that give a new restaurant standing in a community: food and service.

“People come the first time because they have heard that the food is great,” he said. “They come back because of great service. Restaurants sometimes overlook the importance of service. We won’t.”

Crisson expects to open six more restaurants, at least three between Denver and Fort Collins, in the next five years. Meanwhile, the first Rustic Oven will open for lunch and dinner on October 7. Go to www.therusticoven.com for more information.

Two chefs for Windsor

When the former owners of Chimney Park Bistro decided to sell the restaurant to chef Jason Shaeffer, it was not clear how Schaeffer and departing chef Florian Wehrli would resolve the dustup over the non-compete clause. Following the precepts of honor among chefs, they laid down their filleting knives and agreed that having two top chefs at work in Windsor would be a fine idea.

“The owners of Chimney Park originally thought that the bistro would be the first of many,” Shaeffer said. “So they drew up a very broad non-compete clause that I inherited. Since I’m here to create food and not worry about what someone else is doing, Florian and I decided to terminate the agreement.”

Good plan.

Shaeffer’s new contemporary American style of cooking contrasts nicely with Wehrli’s Colorado cuisine with a European twist, assuming that the tasting event at Chimney Park on September 13 is an indication of his creativity and approach to ingredients.

So what is on the menu at Chef Shaeffer’s Chimney Park? Among the appetizers are his signature honey-lime cured yellowtail (a fish in the jack family) and a range of locally sourced creations.

“I have found that Denver has a good supplier of fresh fish,” he said. “We also offer Hazel Dell mushroom soup, Long Family Farms country style pork terrine, and Spomer Ranch bison carpaccio.”

Entrees feature Colorado lamb, bison, pork and poultry.

“Our menu will change month to month as we follow the seasons,” Shaeffer said. “Our tasting menu and four-course chef’s tasting menu will change as well. We will also be broadening our wine list to make it more accessible.”

As a convenience to diners who might be moved to reserve a table in the middle of the night, Shaeffer has signed on with Open Table, a real-time, online reservation network.

“Chimney Park and the Canyon Chop House are the only Northern Colorado restaurants on Open Table,” he said. “To reserve a table, you just go to our Web site, www.chimneypark.com, click on reservations and follow the links to www.opentable.com. You can make and confirm your reservation right there. If you have any special requests, you will still need to call the restaurant.”

That number is 970-686-1477.

Those interested in learning what Wehrli is up to since he left Chimney Park have only to go to his Web site, www.flowehrli.com to get up-to-the-minute information on wine dinners, cooking classes and the creation of a brand-new cheese.

No roof for Lulu

As anyone who has undertaken to create a new restaurant in an historic space understands, getting it ready for prime-time dining is a complex proposition. Last summer, chef Tian “Eric” Lu had high hopes for opening Lulu Asian Bistro in Fort Collins by August. Now it is looking like a fall opening in the College Avenue space occupied for so many years by China Palace instead.

“Construction is going very slow,” Lu said. “We are not sure exactly when we will open, but maybe by the first of November.”

Meanwhile, Kit Sutherland, owner of next-door neighbor Stonehouse Grille, and general manager Paul Hutson struck a deal with building owner Mike Jensen and, as of Sept. 15, took possession of Lulu’s Owl Cigar rooftop.

“We blasted a couple of doors from our second floor onto the rooftop patio,” Hutson said. “We can seat 65 to 70 people for full-service dining. Weather permitting, we will have music.”

Nice.

Jane 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.

Commercial real estate folks know that vacant restaurant space gets snapped right up, while other kinds of vacant retail space do not. So putting a new bistro in what used to be home décor and sportswear stores is something of a surprise.

Working from a fresh palette is what owner and operating partner Todd Crisson had in mind when he leased the spaces on College Avenue in Old Town Fort Collins formerly occupied by Homefest and Daisy Sports for his new restaurant, The Rustic Oven: Bistro Americano.

“Rick Callan (managing broker with Everitt Commercial Partners) pushed us to come to Old Town,”…

Related Content