LAFAYETTE — Eric Foster never envisioned opening a restaurant until he caught the view from a Lafayette hilltop.
“I took one step out of the car and knew,” Foster said. “That day, the vision just hit us.”
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All Foster had intended to do was expand the production space for Stem Ciders, Denver’s first cider taproom, which he opened in the city’s RiNo (River North) neighborhood four years ago. “We got about 3,400 square feet of leased space, and only about 40 percent of that is production space; the rest is the taproom,” he said. “It was pretty small, because we produced there not only for the taproom but we were distributing to Illinois, Kansas and Missouri out of that tiny little space.
“We weren’t looking to do a restaurant or a taproom, just production space. We were looking for a place not to build but to lease for a year and a half, but most spaces like that got grabbed up by marijuana. But then one of my partners knew someone who owned this land in Lafayette with great views.”
Foster remembers being amazed that an open parcel like that, with its sweeping vista of the northern Front Range, still existed just off South Boulder Road on the burgeoning southeast corner of Lafayette. “There’s still land up here,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
In the words of the 1963 hit song by Doris Troy, “Just one look. That’s all it took.”
Recalling the farm cidery concept so prevalent back East, as well as farmhouse taprooms such as Jester King outside Austin, Texas, Foster knew it could work on these 12 acres.
“Hence Acreage was born,” he said. “We bought the property in early 2017. We’re turning Acreage into a place to come and experience cider from tree to cider.”
Although the public restaurant and taproom opened Feb. 24 and “Boulder County welcomed us with open arms,” Foster said, Acreage is still a work in progress. A fire pit and some outdoor seating already is in place, and plans include a concert venue with a stage and grassy seating area on the hill, as well as a rock garden and spaces “for kids to burn off steam,” Foster said. But the biggest plans call for a farm and orchard.
“You’ll be able to tour the orchard, walk around the farm and see how food is grown and where it comes from,” he said. “The farm will supply the restaurant with 20,000 square feet of vegetables and herbs. We’ll have a lot of lettuces, herbs, potatoes, cauliflower, beets, turnips, radishes. Daniel Asher (the chef behind River and Woods in Boulder) is letting us know what we need.”
The orchard will be planted in spring 2019, after some erosion-control work is done on a hillside, but the apples for Stem Ciders won’t come from there.
“This is an experiential orchard. It’s tiny. We hope it produces enough for us to have some fun onsite,” Foster said. “The Front Range in general is not the best area to grow apples because of the late-season frosts. It’s spotty at best. The orchard’s real purpose is educational, much like our concept of food. It’s important to know the impact on our environment and where it comes from.
“The orchard will take four to five years to mature. It’s a long game.”
Stem Ciders gets some apples from Colorado, but most come from the Pacific Northwest, Foster said, “and a lot from Michigan, where both me and Phil are from.”
Foster and Phil Kao, Stem Ciders’ chief operating officer, “developed this concept from day one. We’re both lovers of cider and Michigan football, but we didn’t know each other until we met out here in Colorado because our wives were working together. It took us about three years from the original concept to bring Stem to reality.”
The name Stem was a natural, he said. “Everything is just about the fruit, and the stem is the lifeline for the fruit to get to the tree. It’s really the beginning of the process of cider.”
Foster and Kao knew cider but not food, so they brought in Kelly Whitaker of Id Est., the consulting group behind the Basta restaurant in Boulder. Whitaker, who had just returned from visiting the Basque region of Spain, recruited Asher to develop a menu of Basque-inspired, simple wood-fired food — that is, Foster said, if your idea of simple is jamón Ibérico, “some of the best ham in the world that we bring in from Spain.”
The menu also includes burgers, seafood in tins, wood-grilled fish and sausages made of pork, bison, lamb or venison. Cider doughnuts come with a glaze for dipping. Twenty-four ciders are on tap, and Colorado wines also are available.
A short hallway leads visitors to an overlook of the cider house with its fermenting tanks and production and distribution systems. “It’s a gigantic increase from RiNo and so much more efficient because we had four offsite warehouses there,” Foster said. “Here, we have 15,000 square feet of production space and a 5,000-square-foot warehouse. We’ve been able to open up California for distribution in January, and we’ll be opening some additional markets in the next month or so.”
About the only challenge Acreage faces is helping visitors find it.
“It’s definitely a destination. You’re not going to walk by and just see it,” Foster said, explaining that its marketing plan mostly involves social media, brand identity and word of mouth.
“Once people come and spend time in such a beautiful place, they’ll tell others,” he said. “The sun sets here every night and we don’t have to pay for it. It’s a real honor to share that with people.”