Denver is impatiently awaiting the opening of Old Major on 3316 Tejon Street. The new Highland neighborhood restaurant from chef-owner Justin Brunson of Masterpiece Deli. Located across from the old Squeaky Bean location, this swine and seafood-focused bistro will bring on players that he employed at Wild Catch. Brunson has put in over a decade in restaurants in Iowa, Arizona, and Colorado including Fruition, Zengo, and Mizuna and is ready to open a great Denver restaurant.
What is the inspiration behind Old Major? It's the restaurant I've always wanted to do. Great purveyors, local pork and inspiration from the last 15 years in kitchens.
Where did the name come from? It's the prize winning pig from George Orwell's Animal Farm. Ben Parsons of Infinite Monkey Theorem came up with it. There's some politics in the book that we have nothing to do with. It's a story of the pigs taking over the farmers and in a way that fits for us—we want to serve and promote ethically raised pigs.
What will the food be like? Bistro-style, farm-to-table. I'm really into the pig and seafood. It's what we eat at my house—my wife is a pescatarian. A guy in the Western Slope is raising Chester Whites and Berkshire pigs for us. We will always have a vegetarian tasting menu. We will find a great pastry chef, we are meeting one in Portland in a couple weeks.
What's your view on special requests and dietary restrictions? Come on in. I'm in the service industry. I'm not a 'no' guy. That's pompous. People are bringing in their hard-earned money and I'm here to give them something they want.
Who are you running Old Major with? Galen Kennemer will be Chef de Cuisine. I worked with Galen at Fruition, then the Deli, then Wildcatch. He is the most talented chef I know. He loves food, he is not scared of hard work. We are in synch with our technique. Jonathan Greschler will be the General Manager. Jon and I just click. I need to worry about nothing in the front of the house. He spends so much time on service and he's great with wine. We are also bringing on Jim Soulier as front of the house manager. Jim and I met at Wildcatch. He has an amazing pedigree— Alinea, Trotter's, Frasca. He knows old school fine dining. He brings a lot to the table with service and his knowledge of the business. They are all awesome, amazing human beings.
Tell me about your recent internship and travels in the northeast. I did a 30-day internship in Kingston, New York at Fleisher's, a sustainable butcher shop. Josh Applestone is the man when it comes to sustainable meat and he's an excellent butcher. Now I can break down a whole cow. I'm going to bring Josh out to do a dinner here. We drove out to Montreal. We hung out with the guys at Joe Beef. I really want them to come out here. I did a smoked meat a.k.a. pastrami tour. I ate at Le Filet, Nora Grey, La Comptoir. A lot of Quebecois food like poutine, smoked meat, maple syrup. I put maple syrup in my coffee now.
You went to New York City during your trip. Where did you eat?
I ate at Diner in Brooklyn, Fatty Crab, Milk Bar. I went to ABC Kitchen and I knew the hostess there from Zengo. I went to Eataly, and while I was sitting at the counter David Pasternack of Esca came up to me—he noticed my pork butchery tee shirt. He totally styled me out, it was awesome. Esca has been one of the top seafood restaurants in the country for a long time.
Where do you like to eat in Denver? Restaurant Twelve, Fruition, Pho 95, Lao Wang Noodle House, Patzcuaro's, New Saigon. Denver in the last five years has taken leaps and bounds. We have better ingredients. Frank Bonanno has opened a lot of doors. There's some really great chefs in this city like Ryan over at Trillium and Max at Squeaky Bean. Charlie Palmer had this opportunity to totally blow Denver away and he didn't even try.
Do you have a favorite front of the house person in Denver? Paul Attardi at Fruition, Chris Gregory at Bonanno Concepts, Joey at Sasa, Beth at Rioja.
What is necessary to succeed in Denver? Consistency is number one. That's why McDonalds is so successful. Keeping your staff happy, that goes back to number one. Finding good farmers and gaining relationships with them. Knowing your vision.
When will Old Major open?
We start construction the second week of October. In January we start training. We open in February. Hopefully.
[Photo by Jorge Lamora]