Jennifer, when did you first realize that you had a passion for cooking?
When I was young, I loved cooking for people and making them happy through food.
How did your formal training at The Culinary Institute of America affect your cooking style/philosophy?
It gave me a great foundation of knowledge to move forward from.
What did you learn while working for Wolfgang Puck?
What didn’t I learn in the 10 years working for Wolf is a better question… So much about food, running kitchens, leadership, seeing the whole dining room, taking care of guests and what they want. Oh, so many things.
Beth, how did generations of family restaurateurs affect your outlook on the hospitality industry?
Although my grandparents ran a diner when they were younger it was in their home that really inspired me. They LOVED to entertain. They went to great lengths to really create dining experiences in their home.
Beth, which was more valuable your early hands-on experience working in Colorado restaurants or your four-year degree in restaurant hospitality from the University of Nevada Las Vegas?
My college was important to me as it was a four-year business degree, yet the experience of being in the business is what really made me fall in love. There is no replacement for hands-on education.
After working together to make Panzano a top Denver restaurant, what challenges did both of you face when opening your first restaurant, Rioja?
JEN: After Panzano, Beth and I had numerous challenges. In the beginning, it was just overwhelming and nerve-wracking operating without a safety net. We were finally on our own which was what we wanted but it was scary.
BETH: Even though we both had been on opening teams for other restaurants, opening Rioja was opening our first business. There was so much to learn and do that I had never anticipated.
Even though the menus are different, do your five restaurants share anything in common?
Even though the menus are different we share a philosophy on how we take care of the guest, quality of food, sustainability.
Jennifer, has the James Beard Foundation award for Best Southwest Chef in 2013 affected your career path?
I do not think it affected my career path, it was heading in that direction. It did open doors. Of course, I received attention because of it. It is an amazing honor.
Restaurant critics and the public consistently list your five restaurants—Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Stoic & Genuine, and Ultreia— at the top of Denver’s culinary scene. Can you identify three aspects of your brand which fostered your remarkable success?
BETH: We are in the business of creating experiences and with those experiences the food, beverages and of course hospitality are taken into careful consideration. We want our brand to stand out for excellence in all three areas. Our guests are everything, without them we aren’t anything.
Has the to-go/curbside pickup at some of your restaurants been a viable option during Colorado’s Stay at Home order?
BETH: We are getting busier and busier as the weeks go by and people are growing antsy. We have some new “regulars” that have found our curbside and delivery to be great!
When Denver restaurants reopen, will your restaurants be implementing any new health and safety standards?
BETH: We are prepared to open with social distancing in place if we are required to do so. Our restaurants are very clean and we always practice beyond the standards. Curbside to go business may continue if there is a demand for it.
Before the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, were you contemplating opening any new restaurants or making any changes with existing restaurants? If so, have any of these plans changed?
BETH & JEN: Before COVID-19 we were looking at expanding Ultreia— the existing brand we have as well as a new concept. We are opening a new restaurant, the Ponti, at the Denver Art Museum sometime this summer. Other than that, we are in hold tight mode for now. As the city finds its new normal, we are sure opportunities will arise.
When Sandy isn’t trekking or writing in the Colorado, she is traveling. She has visited more than 40 countries and lived as an international teacher in Bangalore, India. Sandy’s award-winning book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, is a resource for people contemplating an expat lifestyle and living outside their comfort zone.
Sandy’s lifestyle and travel experiences are frequently shared with international and domestic online sites and print media. She has contributed stories to Hemispheres, Destinations Magazine, KUHL’s Born in the Mountain blog, Grand Magazine, Wandering Educators, Golden Living, AARP, Hadassah magazine, Localliz, One Travel, Miles Away, Canadian Jewish News, Getting On Travel, Far and Wide, Colorado Parent, Traveler Confidential, Family Circle- Momster, and others.