Partners Steve Taylor (right) and Scott McCarthy, who met while working for Steak and Ale Restaurants in Dallas, may soon expand outside of Northern Colorado. Jonathan Castner / for BizWest

Pleasing taste buds: Hot Corner Concepts 2013 Bravo! Entrepreneur

Though vastly different in cuisine and atmosphere, restaurants in the Hot Corner Concept family — which include the Moot House, Austin’s, Austin’s Homestead, Enzios and Big Al’s Burgers and Dogs — are among the most popular in Fort Collins.

Hot Corner Concepts Owners Steve Taylor and Scott McCarthy started teasing Northern Colorado taste buds when they took over the Moot House in 1988. Although the two have limited their business to Fort Collins, now that their children are older, they may bring one of their hugely successful concepts to another Colorado city. Whether that concept will include steak, pasta or dogs and burgers is TBD.

Taylor and McCarthy met while working for Steak and Ale Restaurants in Dallas. They bought the Moot House because they wanted to live in Colorado and now have five restaurants and 280 employees.

“I think everyone, especially in our business, dreams of owning their own restaurant,” Taylor said. “I think it’s this romantic notion of being self-employed and all the wonderful things that come with it.”

But the reality is quite different. To save money, McCarthy lived in the basement of Taylor’s Fort Collins house and, although they had saved some money, the two 27-year-olds needed help in funding their acquisition of the Moot House.

“One of the bank presidents, after we finished our proposal, couldn’t help but laugh at us,” Taylor said. “He said, ‘There’s no way in God’s green earth I’ll be able to convince my board of this.’”

After watching the young men pitch eight banks, then-Moot House owner K. Bill Tiley loaned them the money himself. For a few lean months, McCarthy, Taylor and their wives washed dishes, cooked, waited tables and interacted with guests.

“We had maybe 12 or 15 guests at the beginning so I could sit at their table and literally watch them eat their meal,” McCarthy said. “If there was something wrong with the meal, I could say, ‘Steve, we gotta redo this.’”

McCarthy and Taylor eventually added staff — many of whom are still with them today — and started planning next steps.

“We always envisioned or dreamed that we would be able to grow,” Taylor said. “That wasn’t serendipitous. The kids we hired were truly remarkable. They were as committed to our success as we were.”

Taylor and McCarthy consulted and provided food for several businesses in an effort to save cash for their next venture – Sullivan’s Sports Tavern.

“I went to the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. and said, ‘Show me the most densely populated part of Fort Collins,’” Taylor said. “Then I knocked on all the doors of Campus West and said, ‘If you’re ever looking leave, we’re looking to sublet.’”

Eventually, the owner of Valentino’s called Hot Corner Concepts and in 1993, they opened Sullivan’s.

By the 1990s, more restaurateurs like Taylor and McCarthy started looking downtown and, in 1997, they opened Austin’s on one of the most visible corners in downtown Fort Collins. They replicated Austin’s with Austin’s Harmony Road in 2002, Austin’s Homestead in 2005 and added Enzio’s in 2006 and Big Al’s in 2010.

“Typically, the food is what Scott and I like to eat,” Taylor said of developing each concept.

Big Al’s was the biggest deviation from the Hot Concepts norm. Not only does it feature dogs and burgers where the other restaurants feature steak and salmon, Big Al’s is the most sustainable of all the restaurants. Primarily constructed with materials from the Steele’s demolition, everything aside from condiment packets is compostable and the “tip jar” or “Big Change” jar, raises money for local charities. Taylor and McCarthy match all donations. So far, local charities have benefited from approximately $35,000 in big change.

“There’s a collaborative piece that comes into developing a restaurant concept but it’s typically between the two of us,” Taylor said. “With Big Al’s, we had a larger group of people within our organization around the table to help us inspire this restaurant. We will continue to use this process. The result was extraordinary instead of great.”

Taylor and McCarthy haven’t opened a restaurant outside of Fort Collins for two reasons: One, they didn’t want to overextend themselves while their kids were young. Two, they say they haven’t been able to replicate Fort Collins’ talent pool.

“The difficulty of our business is finding people that you can say, ‘This is the result that we’re looking for, here are the loose rules,’” Taylor said. “The objective is making people happy and serving great food.”

While Taylor and McCarthy acknowledge that Austin’s would be the easiest concept to expand since they’ve already replicated it once, that doesn’t mean it’s their favorite or most successful restaurant.

“If you had kids and someone asked you which of your children is the smartest and the most beautiful, would you ever be able to answer that question?” Taylor asked. “Everyone who works for us thinks their restaurant is the most successful and we really appreciate and admire that.”

Though vastly different in cuisine and atmosphere, restaurants in the Hot Corner Concept family — which include the Moot House, Austin’s, Austin’s Homestead, Enzios and Big Al’s Burgers and Dogs — are among the most popular in Fort Collins.

Hot Corner Concepts Owners Steve Taylor and Scott McCarthy started teasing Northern Colorado taste buds when they took over the Moot House in 1988. Although the two have limited their business to Fort Collins, now that their children are older, they may bring one of their hugely successful concepts to another Colorado city. Whether that concept will include steak, pasta or dogs and burgers is TBD.

Taylor and McCarthy met while working for Steak and Ale Restaurants in Dallas. They bought the Moot House because they wanted to live in Colorado and now have five restaurants and 280 employees.

“I think everyone, especially in our business, dreams of owning their own restaurant,” Taylor said. “I think it’s this romantic notion of being self-employed and all the wonderful things that come with it.”

But the reality is quite different. To save money, McCarthy lived in the basement of Taylor’s Fort Collins house and, although they had saved some money, the two 27-year-olds needed help in funding their acquisition of the Moot House.

“One of the bank presidents, after we finished our proposal, couldn’t help but laugh at us,” Taylor said. “He said, ‘There’s no way in God’s green earth I’ll be able to convince my board of this.’”

After watching the young men pitch eight banks, then-Moot House…