The first time Caroline Glover stepped into the space that would soon become her award-winning restaurant, Annette, she wasn’t convinced. The 31-year-old chef was on the hunt for a neighborhood location for her first-ever solo venture — a charming, tiny place where she wouldn’t have to hop on the highway to spend every day in the kitchen. So when Glover’s realtor brought her to the former airport manufacturing plant at Stanley Marketplace, a huge hall with steel and concrete and skywalks, she thought: “Absolutely not.”
Ten months after opening Annette down a dark hallway, in the corner of an old warehouse, surrounded by a parking lot, Glover is hitting her stride in Aurora. Her restaurant is receiving attention from national magazines, former New York food critics, and local fans alike. Her staff’s hard work, humility, and spirit is paying off. And the food is flawless, always surprising, without being fancy or uptight. Thankfully, after that first look at Stanley, Glover had the second thought of what could make a perfect neighborhood gathering spot.
Annette is Eater Denver’s 2017 Editor’s and Reader’s Choice for Restaurant of the Year.
The New Neighborhood Restaurant
At Stanley, she started walking through the market’s halls and meeting its local business owners who were setting up their own stores: “There was kind of this excitement and a buzz that I feel like only someone risking their whole financial life can really exude. But I felt it,” Glover says of talking to her neighbors. Because of them, she decided to turn to two friends, an architect and designer, and ask if they could do something with the stark corner space.
At Annette, a dark hall now transports diners from the din of the market; at its end, the wall transitions to chopped wood kindling, a bookcase, and coat closet. There the 50-seat dining room opens up to flooding natural light, concrete-covering fabric, and flowers, succulents, and plants filling in empty spaces, of which there are few. Glover and two other chefs at a time work together inside the open, New York-studio-sized kitchen. She says she takes comfort in its coziness. From where she stands, she can greet friends and regulars as they come in to eat.
Casual Award-Winning Food
In her quiet, cheerful leadership, a headband and high bun, Glover sets the tone for Annette. Originally from College Station, Texas, she has worked her way from a local Chili’s to The Spotted Pig in New York. There, after graduating from culinary school, Glover found her career path: “I think it definitely formed my palate more than anything else,” she says of working for chef April Bloomfield at the famous West Village gastropub. “I loved April’s palate. I love it still. It’s very simple, and clean, and bright. That’s definitely where it started for me.”
While people might expect white table cloths and tiny portions at a buzzy new Denver restaurant, Glover insists she’s only doing comfort food with a different approach. She keeps high chairs and kids menus, and for the adults, dishes that spin off au gratin potatoes, grilled chicken, and pecan pie. “This is what I want to make at home,” a regular has told her more than once.
Equal Pay, Even Playing Field
At Annette, Glover and her husband and business partner Nelson Harvey are paying all of their employees equally. Let that sink in: “Everybody’s making the same amount of money, everybody’s helping each other out, and everybody’s responsible for the guests’ happiness. It falls on (servers) and it falls on my cooks, as it should, and my dishwasher,” Glover says.
It starts with every employee earning the same base wage and then pooling tips evenly. From the servers to the dishwashers and cooks, Glover says her staff should never earn below $18 per hour, even on a slow night. The result, she says, is that cooks can survive on one job, and servers who stick around are more invested in theirs. “We almost went back so many times,” Glover says of the policy, “but this is something I’ve always felt so strongly about. How could I do that? I worked my whole entire life for $11 an hour and couldn’t make ends meet. I don’t want to put anybody else in that position.” Much of Glover’s staff, starting with general manager Daniel Seibel, previously worked with her at Acorn at The Source:
A Farmer’s Model
Between periods working at the Spotted Pig or, most recently, at Acorn, Glover has farmed for a living alongside Harvey. They ran a CSA near Carbondale, grew and sold heirloom tomatoes in Pennsylvania, and worked a four-season farm in Vermont. Now the restaurant owners think like farmers as well as chefs: “We have a really unrealistic view of what product we should be getting at all times of the year,” Glover says of chefs in general. “There’s got to be a flexibility, and until you’ve been on the other end, it’s hard to see that.”
Glover’s kitchen is 90 percent local in the summer, and she creates as little food waste as possible, cross-utilizing her menu ingredients with the bar. If a less-than-perfect produce comes in, she tries to stay nimble — braising it, say, rather than preparing it fresh. Recently, Annette switched to Sea to Table for sustainable fish, which means the careful 14-item dinner menu (see now octopus patatas bravas) could grow just a bit.
That Surreal Moment
Last week, during a typical dinner service, Glover and her team had the chance to cook for New York Times columnist and former restaurant critic Frank Bruni. The opportunity was serendipitous for Glover, who had cooked for Bruni before, during his review of the Spotted Pig. In 2006, the critic took aim at the Pig’s ridiculous wait time and unruly front of house (which has new meaning given recent news events). But he extolled chef Bloomfield’s food, from the “fantastic gnudi” to a “luscious smoked trout.”
When Bruni walked into Annette in Aurora, more than a decade later on a dinner interview with a politician, Glover had a stressed but familiar feeling. She turned to chefs Chelsey Maschhoff and Michelle Senna, and she decided to take a minute with them: “We’re going to put out the same food that we put out every single night,” she told the two, “but this is really cool, this is a really special moment.” The chefs would then gather themselves and prepare a grilled beef tongue and bone marrow toast, also a wood-fired half chicken — “perfect,” Bruni would later Tweet. But before that last social media review came in, and amid the shower of other recent accolades, two weeks before the holidays and the close of their first business year, Glover turned to her chefs and stopped the line just for a moment. She wanted to remind them and perhaps also herself: “Take it in.”