Brothers Mark and Chris Heinrtiz with President Obama [Photo: The Sink]
The Sink on the Hill is Boulder's oldest restaurant and bar. Open since 1923, this is the 90th year in business for the iconic, quirky, and universally loved restaurant that has remained in its same location since the beginning. Although ownership has changed over the years, brothers, Mark, Chris, and James Heinritz have been manning the helm since 1992- a whole 21 years. The Sink is known for its infamous "Sink Burger" that has been featured on The Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, visits by many famous faces such as Madeleine Albright, President Obama, and Anthony Bourdain, Robert Redford's employment there as a janitor when he was a student at CU, and as a stomping ground for University of Colorado Boulder students, families, and visiting tourists. Eater sat with co-owner, Chris Heinritz to uncover the secret to its longevity, favorite celebrity visits, focus on environmentalism, maintaining affordable prices, and more.
Opened in 1923 by the Summers Family, originally as the "Summer's Sunken Gardens" the restaurant and bar passed through many owners over the years. Tell us a little bit about the history of the opening of the restaurant and how it got started? Summers Sunken Gardens started with a European theme. When it transferred from Summers to The Sink, it was immediately nicknamed the Sink (due to a sunken fountain in restaurant). The nickname stuck and took on a life of its own.
In the early 70's, The Sink was a beer bar, so anyone over 18 could get in. That included the whole student body at CU, so it was one of the mainstays. There weren't so many liquor licenses at the time either. The Sink was a central, focal point to college life more so even than it is today. It was the place to go.
As brothers, you purchased The Sink in 1992 to continue its 90-year legacy as the oldest bar and restaurant in Boulder. Tell us more about your background.
We had no experience in the restaurant industry, and I was only 24 at the time. We asked a lot of questions and made some mistakes but fortunately it was The Sink and already had a loyal following. We tried not to change much of anything until we got our heads around it.
We brought the first computers into the building and modernized it. We're always trying to stay true to the roots, but also make it a viable place for today's market. In 1995, the building was pretty tired so we did a significant remodel. We even put an airflow system in that The Sink had never had; there was no fresh air into the building. It was pretty a pretty grungy place, so we made it a more enjoyable experience we like to think while still staying true to the funky character of it all.
Let's talk about some of the famous faces that have either worked at the restaurant like Robert Redford or visited like President Obama and Chef Author Anthony Bourdain. Who else has been through The Sink? One fun story was a black Lincoln town car pulls up to the front door and a young woman and a petite older woman got out of the car to eat lunch. We're looking at her and finally realize, "wow, that's Madeline Albright." It was fairly random. She wasn't active politically at the time, but that was fun to see her there. Another time Dan Aykroyd came in and he hung out for a while— real late night. We've had various famous people come in and hang out and all kinds of performers who play at The Fox hang out here too.
Just Monday we had a couple who was being filmed by their children showing them getting re-engaged for their 50th anniversary in front of The Sink. Numerous times throughout the year that we have people come back and celebrate 50th anniversaries after meeting here. It's that connection to the past that has been great.
Residing on Boulder's The Hill university neighborhood, there are a lot of events and evenings dedicated to the student population like flipping for your drink with flip night, trivia, and more. What are some of your other specials The Sink offers?
On Saturday we have a build-your-own-Mojitio-bar and Sunday we have a build your own bloody mary bar all day. On Wednesday we have mini-bike races. They're those bikes you would see a clown ride at the circus. There's a circular pattern to The Sink so we have them race around the circle of the restaurant. It's quite humorous. Right now we're having some DJ's once in a while and bands, as well.
In 2006 The Sink moved to run on 100 percent wind power. This is impressive for an old restaurant. Can you tell us about this environmental vision and move? Were there any challenges? We've been here for 90 years, we want to be here for another 90 years. We can change are our habits to ensure that we're still here. Wind power is something that costs us money, it's more expensive electricity, but we believe in supporting and setting up wind farms and we're pushing that agenda forward a bit.
What menu items have remained intact over the years? What items have you refreshed and added since you've been owners? We kept the "Sink Burger" and the pizza is similar. The biggest thing for us is that we've stayed true to our price point. Our price point is driven around the hamburger. I remember that hamburger being $5 in 1992. Now it's $10.
What's the most iconic menu item? The hamburger, for sure. The ugly crust pizza holds its own, but the hamburger is what we're known for and we sell the heck out of them.
How do you suppose The Sink stayed afloat after all these years? What makes it unique? We have slowly but surely tried to increase quality and consistency, to the point where we're getting on television shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. That's the thing that's going to keep us going forward. The location is one thing and you walk into the place and it just oozes history. You feel it. I think that's the thing that really lets us stand out. Our uniqueness in the Boulder market and our history is our greatest asset.
Anything we can expect from The Sink in the near future? We hired a new Executive Chef, David Davis, and he's going to focus on the ever-challenging task of improving the food while staying true to our core. We also have West Flanders, our sister restaurant, which has afforded us more purchasing power with farmers, so hopefully we can bring in some more local seasonal [ingredients].
It has been 21 years that my brother Mark and I have been here. There's never a dull moment. We have our year long 90th birthday celebration going on. We have foggy dates as to what may be our anniversary so we're celebrating it all year long.
· Woman Spills Yogurt on President Obama at The Sink [EDen]
· The Sink and West Flanders Crew Will Open New Brewpub [EDen]
· Guy Fieri brings Food Network's 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' to Boulder [Colorado Daily]