food for thought

Everything We Learned at the 2022 Colorado Restaurant Show

After a two-year absence, the Colorado Restaurant & Bar Show returned to the Colorado Convention Center March 8-9 with the theme “An Industry on the Rise: Innovation, Sustainability & Wellness.” We ate (probably too much), we drank (a full-bodied red at 9 a.m.), we reconnected with old friends we hadn’t seen in 2+ years – and it felt incredibly good to be back together in person. 

After two days of dips, sips, demos, keynotes and catching up, here are some of our favorite moments and lessons learned from the Show:

Gary Obligacion with The Alinea Group

Learning from the experts

We heard insight from the National Restaurant Association Senior Vice President B. Hudson Riehle about the future of the restaurant industry –noting that delivery may wane as we emerge from the pandemic, and highlighting the viability of virtual kitchens for small operators. We learned about using the right wine glass, and making great cocktails from Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and Breakthru Beverage.

It was fascinating learning about the inner workings of The Alinea Group from keynote speaker Gary Obligacion, Director of Development. Alinea’s average check is approximately $1,000/head, but on Easter 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, they dropped meals to below $100 and sold 1,800 of them, their busiest day ever. 

Obligacion reminded us that hospitality goes beyond hospitality towards guests, but also to employees and vendors. That’s why each check has an automatic 20 percent gratuity on it. That’s why every employee at the Alinea group is given health insurance. That’s why they plan their menus months in advance, giving their farmers and ranchers time to plan and grow the produce they’ll need so they’ll have predictable income.  In the words of Obligacion, “A good team and a good vision can make up for a lot,” (though we can’t imagine that Alinea slips up in any capacity).

 
“The restaurant industry is an insane business – it’s a perishable product that literally dies if you don’t sell it. It’s not the most important thing to make coin – it’s about the warmth of hands exchanging that coin.” 
– Gary Obligacion

Our Favorite Eats

  • Sawatch Artisan Foods – Sawatch makes farm-to-table dairy products like European-style sweet cream butter and cheeses using slow, artisan, handcrafted methods.  They teamed up with Boulder’s Dry Storage to offer samples of their butter on Dry Storage’s divine rye bread and focaccia. That, and their cheese samples, were truly the best bites of the show.
  • Raquelitas Tortillas – Denver-based Raquelitas cooks whole kernel corn between lava rock stones to achieve melt-in-your-mouth and chew perfection in their tortillas.
  • Tater Keg – Tater Keg creates giant stuffed tater tots with a keg shape. We couldn’t pick which flavor was more craveable – Chorizo Burrito, Buffalo Chicken, or Bacon/Cheddar/Chive – but we had fun trying! 

 

Our Favorite Drinks

  • Outworld Brewing – As beer enthusiasts, we’re always looking for new Front Range breweries. The green chili lager from the Longmont-based brewery is a beer that will be spicing up our spring. 
  • Abbott & Wallace – The recently rebranded Abbott & Wallace, formerly Longtucky Spirits, brought their top-shelf lineup of whiskey, rum and accompanying canned cocktails. The Caribbean Queen with a spicy ginger kick and the award-winning Longtucky Julep were some of our very favorite canned cocktails of the event – and there were a lot of them as that sector continues to grow. 
  • Mile High Spirits – Their Fireside Peach Whiskey got us excited about the idea of sitting by a fire on a summer camping trip. Booking that campsite now! 

 

One of Our Favorite New Programs

When chatting with the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), we learned the Colorado Restaurant Foundation recently launched the Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship (RYRA) to connect young people to the nation’s second-largest private-sector employer — restaurants — through industry apprenticeships like Restaurant Management and Line Cook. RYRA is offered in Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, and Maryland. As a team of people who love to support restaurants, we’re huge advocates of propping up young adults with lucrative opportunities in kitchens. The CRA was also one of the few states selected to implement the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA), the industry’s first-ever earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship program for adults of all ages, approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. The HSRA aims to create career opportunities for the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality workforce.

Between the Colorado Bar & Restaurant Show, 2022 Natural Products Expo West and EatDenver’s ED Talks – all in March – it’s safe to say that the ever-resilient f&b industry is happy to put COVID in their rearview mirror and plan for a stronger-than-ever return.

Next up: our top takeaways from 2022 Expo West

Photos by: Lauren Joy

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