Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Beth Gruitch [Photo: Adam Larkey]
Beth Gruitch and chef Jennifer Jasinski have been a business power couple for twelve years now, and they've helped build Larimer Square into the restaurant empire that it is today. Rioja, Bistro Vendôme and Euclid Hall all evoke styles that Gruitch and Jasinski believed were fundamental to Denver's growth, and each of their restaurants have become flagships. Gruitch recently sat down with Eater to chat about how she splits her time between three restaurants, her biggest starstruck moments and expansion. Here now, our interview with Gruitch.
Since you're behind three restaurants, where can you be found throughout the week? Right now I'm at Rioja four days a week, but I'll visit each restaurant to run food and chat with guests. That's the beauty of having three places on the same block.
Larimer Square attracts a lot of foot traffic throughout the week, but what would you say are the busiest nights? Each restaurant is different. For Rioja and Bistro, it's Fridays and Saturdays. But anything at The Pepsi Center or the Convention Center can create a rush. At Euclid Hall, it's hard to predict. We can get rushes throughout the day, any day. It's not unheard of to have 20-30 tops at Euclid because we have the space for them.
So let's talk about Rioja. Say it's a Friday or Saturday night — how long is the wait if you don't have a reservation? Depends how flexible you are. We don't reserve our chef's counter, the lounge or the patio. We also have a couple tables in the dining room that we don't always reserve. We can usually get people seated if they're flexible, but for the dining room, the wait can be anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.
How far in advance does a guest have to book for a prime table during the weekend? We're a couple weeks out, depending on the size of the party.
Has business fluctuated since you opened Rioja? Our business has grown. Everyone took a hit with the economy, and we've all had to try harder. Jen and I have been very fortunate. We haven't raised prices, and we've been creative about getting more seats in the restaurant. I have to thank the Convention Center and Visit Denver, though, because they've been really good about getting people to Denver. It's a hot ticket right now.
Tell us about your regulars. They're awesome. Some of them love Rioja, and only Rioja, and others prefer Bistro, and only Bistro. The same is true for Euclid. Some of our Euclid regulars have never even been to Rioja or Bistro, and some of them go to all three. It's a great group of VIPs and regulars. We even have regulars from the Panzano days.
What kind of VIPs have you had? I call our regulars VIPs. Really, VIP is a generic terms. Sure, famous people fall into that area, but our regulars who live a block away also fall into that category. If a server's family comes in, they're VIPs as well. We've definitely had some big names in here, and that exciting. But sometimes they might seem really cool to me, and maybe not to you.
Like who? There's no shame in a having a starstruck moment. Well, our entire kitchen was speechless when Thomas Keller came in. That was really cool, and that was definitely a highlight. During the Democratic National Convention, we had every politician dining at Rioja at 1 a.m., which was definitely a career highlight for me.
What are some of your tricks of the trade? I'm terrible at names, and I'm really honest about that. I'm great about remembering details, but not names. Open Table has been a big help. Making someone's experience very personable is definitely important to me. It really sets yourself apart.
How would you describe the service at your venues? Warm and welcoming. It doesn't matter if you're at Rioja, Bistro or Euclid — the steps of service will be on point. I want guest to feel comfortable asking questions too. At Rioja, I hope a guest is comfortable telling a server that they don't know anything about Spanish wine, and for the server to be able to walk them through our list.
Describe how you and Jennifer Jasinski started working together. I moved to Denver in 1998, and I took the GM job at Panzano in the Hotel Monaco. After a year at Panzano, we started looking for a chef, and that's when we found Jen. We bacame business partners through Kimpton, and we spent a few years there together. We're actually coming up on 12 years of working together, which is absolutely crazy to me.
That's a long relationship. It is a long relationship. It's a long friendship and a long business relationship, and we've made it work really well. We quickly found out that we work really well together, and one day we decided we wanted to do something on our own. Honestly, I had never really thought about owning my own restaurant. I kind of figured I was on more of a corporate career path. I really loved Kimpton and I thought that was home for me. I was looking at director of operations positions, moving — all this crazy stuff, and then Jen and I really started to talk about it. We had some investors that didn't really pan out, and we went through all the trials and tribulations of that, but seven and a half years ago, when we opened, it all came to fruition. We poured our heart and souls into this place, and it ended up being everything we had hoped and dreamed for.
Euclid Hall has become a bit of a gastropub sensation in this city. Tell us about creating that concept. About two years, we started our construction on Euclid Hall and opened on August 9th, 2010. We started thinking about how spoiled we were to have Bistro right across the street, and after looking at spaces all over town, we couldn't pass up the Euclid building when it became available. It just made sense. Euclid is our wild child. It's a crazy, fun place with great food and an awesome beer list. It's totally different than anything else we're doing. We knew we needed to bring LoDo a late night restaurant that would cater to the industry. Jen and I both used to work in Vegas, and we didn't know eachother, but we used to go to this place after work for dinner and drinks. It was a place that was known for industry. We'd eat, throw back some drinks, come home, pretty much watch the sun come up, and do it all over again. When we started thinking about Euclid, and what Denver was missing from a culinary standpoint, we knew we wanted to present something interesting — a place where you could come get a snack or a full meal with a great beer or cocktail.
Would you open another restaurant? Or are you content with three? You know, three is awesome — one was awesome. We're always looking, and we're always thinking about what Denver needs. It's all about having the right concept at the right time. There could definitely be a fourth. There could even be a fifth. Who knows. But, none of our concepts would be duplicated. We would never do a Rioja in the burbs — it just doesn't translate. We certainly don't want to do the chain thing. We're very conceptual and chef-driven; We're focused on locations and the people behind them.
· Previous Gatekeeper Posts [EDen]
· All Rioja Coverage [EDen]
· The Eater 38: The Essential Denver Restaurants [EDen]