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The Rocky Road To Glory: A Year Into the Plimoth

Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one-year anniversary.

The team at the Plimoth
The team at the Plimoth
Adam Larkey

Getting a lot of attention might have not been the original plan for the three guys behind the Plimoth but whether it was intentional or not they were noticed. In its first year of business, the restaurant located in City Park North made the list of 5280 Magazine's Best New Restaurants in March and joined the 25 Best Restaurants in October. It received a three star review from the Denver Post, a raving review from Westword, and it was selected among three finalists in the Restaurant of the Year by Eater Denver.

Owner and executive chef Peter Ryan opened the Plimoth on November 16, 2013 along with friends Charles MacDonald, chef de cuisine, and Adam Knickerbocker, general manager and sommelier. Eater sat with trio and discussed renovation, getting back in the restaurant world, and keeping things simple.

How did you guys come together to start The Plimoth?

Peter Ryan: I always wanted to do something like this. I had a relationship with both of these gentlemen; Adam was a student at Cook Street when I was teaching and also he worked there so I knew his front of house talents and I worked with Charles at Z Cuisine for a while and then Charles came to the school and taught some recreational classes. It was always an idea to do something. Originally it was with another gentleman and when that wasn't going to happen I decided to do it myself. We kind of joke about getting the band back together because Charles wasn't cooking and Adam was over at the Denver Country Club and I just had this wild idea and was like, "What do you think?" It took a little convincing but thank God these guys came on board.

I live right down the street and I always wanted something in my neighborhood and there is nothing around here. When I decided to just go for it, I went online and this property had just come up on Craigslist that hour. I just fell into it. I kicked the idea around for a while and met with architects and tried to come up with a plan and a couple of months later signed a lease and started building it up.

Charles MacDonald: It really did look like this right from the start.

PR: The kitchen was just like this.

CM: It was gorgeous, but also a total shit hole. It had an inch of dirt on the floor.

PR: From February to November, we were building this place up and that is one of the things we are really proud of. Of course we had architects, electricians, and plumbers but everything else we did. We had no plan. We would do one thing and that look and feel would lead to something else. The first piece that we did was exposing the brick. From there we decided to put a counter up and then that determined the tables and so on and so forth. With the bar we had this wood that came from the rafters in the ceiling and Adam designed the bar with it. We didn't have an interior designer and I don't know how it all came together.

What was opening day like?

PR: Hell.

CM: The first night was ridiculous. We had been in construction for nine months and then all of a sudden we are cooking again. Adam is running the front of the house and pouring wine and all of us were completely out of sync and out of rhythm. We were running into each other it was horrible.

PR: The first night was friends and family and that was a Friday night and Saturday was our first night open to the public. Saturday morning I sat on my porch and was like what the hell did I do? We were screwed. Luckily, we kind of worked the kinks out.

How long did it take to get into sync?

PR: Still working on it. It took a long time. Charles had his chops back really quickly, but as the owner, you are doing other things so I'm still keep learning and trying to get back to where I was. I am getting really good at writing checks.

Any specific memories from opening night?

Adam Knickerbocker: I can't say that there is one thing specific, but I will say that the whole thing from construction to as recently as last week has been a lesson about overcoming challenges because nothing happens easily. Our joke is to say that it's never boring and it's never easy. We have gotten really good at managing the evolution that is the Plimoth to where we are at now and it is from overcoming those challenges. Whether it is trying to get the right cut on a piece of bar on a corner that is not square, working through a financial issue like a credit card machine that goes down on a busy Saturday night, or kitchen configuration. Whatever it is, we always get there. The show must go on.

CM: The first night that we opened, the hours were counting down for when we were opening up for service and I remember we were looking at the equipment and trying to get the prep in and I was like, "We have eight sauté pans." We had all brought things in from our house; we had my spatulas, Adam's spatulas, and Pete's tongs. We didn't have all the equipment yet and I realized we didn't have enough sauté pans. I called up Adam and he rushed up to a restaurant supply store and bought a bunch of new pans. I think that was the funniest thing for me talking to Adam on the phone and saying, "We need some sauté pans or we are not going to be able to do this."

PR: The women at the Restaurant Source just gave them to us and we paid later. It is pretty amazing how many people have helped us get to where we are right now. If not just these guys as well as the front of the house, but also the meat guy who delivered even though we owed him money. We would not be where we are, which I don't know where we are, without so many people seeing our potential and really getting behind us and taking a huge leap of faith. That goes back to what I did and what these guy did. Just saying screw it what is the worst thing that could happen?

What is it like being in the booming Denver food scene?

PR: There are so many good restaurants out there which means a lot of competition. They are just opening up all the time and you don't hear about too many places closing. It keeps you on your game to put out the best product and the best service. It also keeps you on your game to treat your staff right. We take a lot of pride in trying to treat everyone well whether it is closing for vacations, giving a good salary, or offering them health benefits. A lot rests on a restaurant owner to take care of the people and we have had very little turnover since we've opened. It's been people moving on for personal reasons, but not like those guys suck or they don't pay me enough. Of course you work a lot, that is the nature of the business, but we always wanted to do something different. I have been working in restaurants for 27 years and I have been on the other end of the 85 hours $400 a week where you miss everyone vacation, every holiday, every wedding, because of work. We aren't doing that. Charles is my head chef and he is taking this weekend off to go to a wedding. I didn't even bat an eye, whereas before it would have been absolutely not. We really strive for that.

CM: It is overwhelming. I wish I could go out to eat more. I think one of our things is to avoid becoming really overwhelmed with it all. There is a lot of humility here from Pete all the way down to our dishwasher, but also a lot of pride in what we are doing here. We joke around like at least the doors are open—that is our main focus. Not to be top five in the Denver Top 25 list. It has been to keep the doors open tomorrow, fill the seats, and serve good food. We strive for perfection in making that person happy and that they had the right turnip. As far as being a part of the Denver food scene, I don't even really think about it that much. It has been really cool to get the recognition and I am really thankful for all that, but the focus is how to serve the best food best service, best bottle of wine, and how can we train our staff properly to do that?

How has The Plimoth evolved since day one?

AK: The basic formally hasn't changed since we opened really. It has been about a limited menu of starters, mains, and desserts that are seasonally driven and what we feel like eating. We source the best ingredients that we can as close as we can to us. The menu is bigger than it was and we are offering more than what we were on the food and beverage side. The weather changed and it is really starting to feel like winter. You will see braises on our menu any day now because of that. The nuts and bolts are still there and we are just trying to do it a little better every day.

CM: Never thought we would be this busy and we are so thankful for that. It is so awesome to see people really buying into this vision and dream that we had with this place. It is great we are packed all the time. The patio, when it is open, is packed and the restaurant is packed almost every night. When we first opened the doors, I was like I hope people show up.

PR: I remember doing 24 covers one night that first week. I was like, "Holy shit 24 covers!" Now we are doing a 124 on Saturday night. We still try to manage it. It is always been still focused on doing the best service and saying no if we need to for the sake of not compromising the entire experience.

Is have your one-year anniversary a milestone to you guys?

AK: It is definitely a milestone; some places close within three months. I think talk to us in five years and we will feel more comfortable talking about milestones. It is encouraging that one of the things we are talking about is how busy we are and that it is sort of a surprise and that we are still open. We don't intend on going anywhere and I think the first year is a good sign of things to come. It feels good knowing that people are embracing it and responding to it and hopefully people keep showing up.

CM: We see the sliver of potential and I think we try not to get too excited on that. It's a great option to be open for a year but what happens at a year and a day? We still just have to stick to those standards. I think a mistake that a lot of restaurants make is when you get a lot of press and stuff right off the bat and they get popular and they get a head of themselves. We just want to stay focused on some good food and having people show up.

PR:  We purposely flew under the radar. We could have very easily picked up the phone or called the Westword or 5280 while we were building. We didn't say anything to anyone. We didn't want all the publicity and just wanted to open the doors and have people show up.  We are involved in the restaurant community, we all have lots of friends and colleagues in the industry, but we keep it pretty simple—keep it quiet and do the best we can every day.

Has the neighborhood responded in a positive way?

PR: Yeah absolutely. There is a lot of potential out here and it is great because I walk to work. The neighborhood is very interesting. The city itself has swollen in so many different directions and it has to come this way. I just heard yesterday that Five Points is blowing up in the next six months.

CM: I think there has been a lot of really good partnerships with other smaller name people around this neighborhood like Black Shirt Brewing and BeetBox Bakery. We've formed some great relationships with some people that share the same integrity and desire to put out a really good product. They have really been key for us. When we put Black Shirt Brewing on tap people come in and said, "Oh, you have Blackshirt?" We are thankful for that. There are some really good people doing some really cool stuff out there we are happy to showcase it here.

Could you go into detail about the menu?

CM: We don't ever take an entire menu and throw it out. We kind of let the seasons dictate what happens and so we have a dish and take a dish away as seasonally fit really. We let the ingredients do most of the talking. Like Adam had mentioned, it is what we feel like feeding them and we always try to stick to our guns with that. For example we always wanted to do pastrami and we figured out how to make pastrami and bought a smoker, smoked pastrami, and put pastrami on the menu for a little while just because we wanted to. More than anything else, it's the seasons that dictates the menu. Like the turnips these guys just pulled out of the garden, because it is going to be cold tomorrow and there are going to be plenty of turnips on the menu tomorrow. We still just try to stay focused, really simple, get good ingredients, good technique added to those, and whatever we come up from there.

AK: With the beverage program, I try to keep up with these guys. They'll throw a new menu item my way and I'll be like, "Ok I have to come up with a pairing for that." Do I try to work with what I have or do I have to bring something new in? Again, you drink and eat according to the season and that is what we try to put in front of customers.

CM: Another thing that is really cool that is going on in Colorado right now too is that the farmers are becoming just as much superstars as much as the chefs are. I think nationwide you could say the same thing. For us to say that it is just us that is developing the menu isn't right. There are a lot of cool farmers that we work with and it is them putting forth the efforts to grow these things or raise these animals and the standards that are being applied to make our job even easier. We go to the farmers market twice a week during the season and that is going to end here pretty soon but we developed some really good relationships with these farmers and we can still use their storage crops. I think the unsung heroes in this whole food movement in Denver right now is the fact that the farming has gotten so much better. We are now able to get our hands on things that  are great quality that maybe wasn't seen in Denver five-ten years ago.

How has it been working as a team?

PR: It's a blessing that the three of us all speak the same language. Working together and having the same schooling makes it pretty easy so it is a cohesive team. It is not like a rock star wine person and a rock star chef; no everyone here really knows what the other person is thinking. I don't have to explain why we are going to be drinking big reds next month. Even now, Adam is like its cold out we should, we don't want to drink rose even though we do have some on the menu and they are still selling. It is very easy. It is not a challenge to get your point across.

Why do you think people pick The Plimoth for an evening out?

AK:  I think people are enticed by the idea of farm to table that's a big movement. We are focused on great ingredients, fundamentals, and great technique. It is not about how cushy our booths are or our seats; we don't have booths or cushy seats. It is not about our $300 bottles of wine. It is not about an expensive bill. It's really about the food on the plate, the wine in the glass, and how the two go together. People are just responding to the quality. Even though it is just one very echoy room and in a part of town without a lot of restaurants, theaters, or a lot else going on people should show up for the food. I don't think they will be disappointed.

PR: The whole idea behind what we do here and what we deliver everything from the quality of ingredients to the environment to the price point to the menu items, I always put myself in the diners shoes. What kind of experience would I want? It's kind of selfish but it works. I've been that cook who can't afford to eat at Mizuna, for example, and drop $200. I want to go to a place where I can have a good meal a beer or two and drop like $35. We keep it like that and very approachable. People pick up on that because they see our gardens they see us taking care of the property. They see that we are here every day. They see that we take care of the neighborhood people. They have embraced that and for some reason they keep showing up.

What is next?

AK: Try to get our phone system fixed.

PR: Try to get the refrigerator fixed; wild week. Whats next for The Plimoth?

AK: Get better every day.

PR: Get better every day. Just keep our heads down, work hard, stay focused, and have fun too. If you are standing next to the same person for 14 hours a day and you are not having fun, what is it all for?

Any plans for your one-year anniversary?

PR: Yeah our buddy over at To the Wind Bistro, Royce Oliveira, is throwing us a party. We rented out his restaurant and all the employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, husband, wives, and anyone who has really helped us so our meat guy is coming. Once again people who said yeah we believe in you guys, we invited them. It is a milestone for them too because they were there right from the beginning. We will eat and drink and have lots of fun.

Any final words for the readers?

AK: Nothing's changed as far as the work ethic.

PR: It is been a lot of hard work and I joke that we are lucky but luck does play a roll because the people show up. The integrity, the passion, and the hard working effort from everybody — it's amazing.

CM: I hope we'll stay for another year or at least a couple of months because I'm having a good time.

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The Plimoth

2335 East 28th Avenue, , CO 80205 (303) 297-1215 Visit Website