Cassity Bertrand, mobile services manager for Gold Leaf, poses by the Silver Seed food truck, which was parked with 18 others at the Fort Collins Food Truck Rally, held every Tuesday from 5:30 until dusk in City Park. Courtesy Gold Leaf Collective

Vegan eatery makes most of golden opportunity

FORT COLLINS — September is a golden month in Colorado, as locals and tourists alike flock to the high country to marvel at hillsides ablaze with yellow aspen leaves. Seasoned leaf-peepers know, however, that the time to enjoy that golden aspen glory is fleeting, since a strong storm can blow those quaking leaves away and leave nothing but bare branches.

In September two years ago, a strong financial storm nearly meant the end of The Gold Leaf Collective. The five-month-old vegan restaurant was beset by costly repairs or replacement of kitchen equipment. Its finances couldn’t keep up, and it shut its doors.

“I honestly thought we were done,” said founder Taylor Smith.

Instead, with the help of its partners, staff and a generous community, the rustic little eatery on Fort Collins’ funky Laurel Street quickly bounced back — and today basks in the golden glow of success.

That success seemingly is limited only by the 900-square-foot restaurant’s size.

“We’ve maxed out our current location,” Smith said. “We’ve only got 13 tables inside and the kitchen is equally as tiny. Those growing pains are hurting. And yet we’re projecting to clear $1 million in revenue this year in that tiny space.”

The space has stone and wood accents, bookshelves above its front windows, creative lighting, knick knacks galore, a copper-based water feature on the back wall, and a unisex restroom with shelves holding dozens of old National Geographic magazines.

Smith describes the menu as “hyper-local” with as many Colorado-specific ingredients as possible, “served in both familiar and unique ways. Our intent,” he wrote in response to an online critic, “is to appeal both to non-vegans and vegans alike, and as the first vegan restaurant in Northern Colorado, we feel it is our responsibility to provide a non-judgmental platform for all types of people to try for the first time — or expand upon their knowledge of — plant-based cuisine.”

Mushroom melt sandwich, left, and poke’ bowl, right. Dallas Heltzell / for BizWest

Smith is used to meeting such challenges. He was brought up in a religious faith known for carrying its message door to door. “I’m not that anymore, but still it raised me to be very vocal about the world and everything in it,” he said. “All those doors slammed in my face taught me so much about standing up for what I believe.

“I dropped out of high school at 15 because I was taught the world was about to end. The only people that would hire me were kitchens.”

That exposure to food preparation provided Smith with a vehicle — literally — to help save the planet: an old Serro Scotty Sportsman teardrop camper trailer.

“I wanted to figure out how I can leave my impact on the world,” he said. “We’re burning the place down and acting like everything’s fine. We need some change. I’d like to inspire more people to vote with their dollars and vote with their food.

“So I drove down to Colorado Springs seven years ago to pick up that old trailer. It had no insulation, and there was a squirrel living in it. At the time it was green. We used paint thinner to strip the old green off. It was a lot of work. Once we stripped that paint away, we found there was silver underneath it. It was beautiful!”

And the Silver Seed was born.

The trailer began serving up healthy food, wherever it could. “We’re out three to five days a week in the busy season,” he said. “We go all over Colorado, including at the food-truck rally in Fort Collins every Tuesday from 5 to dusk in City Park.

“So we started thinking we should open a restaurant,” he said. “We toiled over the name for weeks. But we were all plant-based, 100 percent, so Gold Leaf just felt right. It was the next step of the evolution, and sure enough, it happened.

“Back in late 2016, I got the call that a space was available” that had been the home of an Ethiopian restaurant, Smith said. “But we had no money. So I posted on Facebook that I had an opportunity to open a restaurant, and within three months we had over $100,000. It was kind of a sign for us that it was time to take the next step.

“I was the sole owner, but I brought on some co-owners to make it possible. The primary owners are me and my wife, Michelle.”

There are just 13 tables inside the tiny Gold Leaf Collective restaurant. Dallas Heltzell / for BizWest

Gold Leaf Collective opened in April 2017 as Northern Colorado’s first all-vegan restaurant. “That first year was tough. We almost didn’t make it,” Smith said. “We were trying really hard to make something that had never been seen before, something avant garde. But it wasn’t accessible to the community. It was a little too new. It’s hard enough to have a vegan restaurant, but to make it avant garde you end up shooting yourself in the foot.”

That financial foot injury forced Smith to shut the five-month-old eatery down on Sept. 8, 2017. “We had to sit down for a minute and think what’s going to make this thing last?”

Gold Leaf’s employees didn’t give up. They launched a GoFundMe campaign and held a fund-raising block party, Smith said, “and we raised more than $6,000 in three days.”

Hence the “Collective” part of the restaurant’s name.

“Most restaurants pay no attention to suggestions of employees, but we wanted everybody to have a voice in its direction,” Smith said. “We work with local companies. It’s not my restaurant; it’s everybody’s. We do mandatory meetings monthly with our kitchen and our servers to just touch base that everything’s tasting good and if there’s anything we need to change.

“I don’t understand how restaurant owners take everything on themselves,” he said. “This way, it makes it feel like a team, because we are.

“Restaurant workers get the short end of the stick. Long hours, on your feet, pay not good. So our tips are shared with the back of the house as well. It motivates everybody to get their A game on. I couldn’t rest well if I knew my employees were struggling; it doesn’t make sense to me.”

In April this year, Smith bought Rustic Donut, a wholesaler that supplies 50 coffee shops throughout Colorado. His restaurant now serves the hearty sweets as upscale desserts.

“So now we have three core companies operating together with the same mission,” Smith said.

Now, he said, he just needs more space “where we can do all these things and present them in the forefront.

“We’re talking about opening in Boulder, although that’s at least two years out,” he said. “I’d like to have a fleet of food trucks one day, and we’re also exploring moving to a different location in Fort Collins. We need to figure out how to fund that and logistically make it happen.”

____________

If you go

The Gold Leaf Collective

120 W. Laurel St., Fort Collins

970-682-1633

thegoldleafcollective.com

 

FORT COLLINS — September is a golden month in Colorado, as locals and tourists alike flock to the high country to marvel at hillsides ablaze with yellow aspen leaves. Seasoned leaf-peepers know, however, that the time to enjoy that golden aspen glory is fleeting, since a strong storm can blow those quaking leaves away and leave nothing but bare branches.

In September two years ago, a strong financial storm nearly meant the end of The Gold Leaf Collective. The five-month-old vegan restaurant was beset by costly repairs or replacement of kitchen equipment. Its finances couldn’t keep up, and it shut its doors.

“I honestly thought we were done,” said founder Taylor Smith.

Instead, with the help of its partners, staff and a generous community, the rustic little eatery on Fort Collins’ funky Laurel Street quickly bounced back — and today basks in the golden glow of success.

That success seemingly is limited only by the 900-square-foot restaurant’s size.

“We’ve maxed out our current location,” Smith said. “We’ve only got 13 tables inside and the kitchen is equally as tiny. Those growing pains are hurting. And yet we’re projecting to clear $1 million in revenue this year in that tiny space.”

The space has stone and wood accents, bookshelves above its front windows, creative lighting, knick knacks galore, a copper-based water feature on the back wall, and a unisex restroom with shelves holding dozens of old National Geographic magazines.

Smith describes the…