A new hot spot of options for grazing in Glenwood Springs | AspenTimes.com

A new hot spot of options for grazing in Glenwood Springs

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

People pass in front of the newly opened Smoke Modern Barbeque and The Lost Cajun, located in the refurbished 711 Grand Ave. building, on Thursday afternoon.

There's an "eating frenzy" going on along Glenwood Springs' most happening corner of town, with the recent opening of the new Smoke Modern Barbeque in the refurbished 711 Grand Ave. building, and the long-awaited opening of the new Grind location expected early next month.

That "frenzy," as Smoke bar manager Axel Shavalier referred to it, has been a good thing, not only for the newest kids on the block who opened the Roaring Fork Valley's second Smoke location on Sept. 4, but for the ever-growing downtown dining scene where restaurants can sort of feed off each other.

"Restaurants really do operate on that," Shavalier said of the high concentration of restaurants along Seventh Street, now including the southwest corner of Seventh and Grand.

In addition to long-established eateries such as the Italian Underground, that corner of the block now includes Smoke, The Lost Cajun, Slope & Hatch and what's to become the third location for the Grind gourmet hamburger joint and a planned basement-level speakeasy lounge at 701 Grand Ave.

Though Shavalier and Smoke owner and chef Jamie Theriot had originally hoped to open the new Glenwood restaurant by late spring or early summer, Shavalier said the consensus has been that the rescheduled late-season opening was probably for the best.

"It really worked out in the most positive of lights, and the opening has been better than we ever expected," he said of the pent-up anticipation that led to a flood of customers as soon as the doors were opened for the typically busy lunch and dinner crowd.

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"Just this last Tuesday was one of the biggest nights we've had since we opened," Shavalier added.

Smoke is still awaiting final liquor license approval to begin serving food and drinks on the wrap-around outdoor patio for the remainder of the fall season.

Once open, the restaurant will be able to expand from an indoor seating capacity of about 100 to a total of 130 seats during the warmer months, Shavalier said.

Theriot opened the original Smoke, located at Willits in Basalt, in 2007. He said in a recent statement announcing the opening of the second, larger location, that Smoke prides itself as a neighborhood destination and intends to be an avid supporter of the Glenwood Springs community.

"Our goal is to provide a home-away-from-home venue for families and people of all ages where we become known as the best food value in the area and the neighborhood destination for a variety of occasions," Theriot said.

Among Smoke's signature dishes are a daily mac and cheese feature, "Devilish Eggs," barbecue pork spareribs, slow-smoked pulled pork and beef brisket and even shrimp and grits.

That touch of southern-flavored cuisine doesn't really bother Gabe Griffin, owner of The Lost Cajun Louisiana-style eatery next door. In fact, he said the arrival of Smoke only increased business for him.

"That just made more people come over and check out this side of Grand, which has kind of become everybody's new curiosity," Griffin said. "The number of people just walking by and hanging out is already a lot different than it was just a month ago."

Griffin said it's been a banner year so far after he and his dad, Raymond Griffin, opened the family's third Lost Cajun location in late April. The small restaurant chain was founded in Frisco in 2010 and also has a Breckenridge location.

"We surpassed all of our goals, and it just continues to be fantastic," Griffin said. "Even though we're kind of out of tourist season now, we're still realizing what a great corner this is."

The boost started late last year when Boulder real estate investors Andy Niemeyer and Mark Licata bought the vacant 711 Grand building and decided to convert the old bowling alley into space for the two new restaurants.

They also worked with the city of Glenwood Springs and the Downtown Development Authority to spruce up the alleyway next to the building, which now serves as more of a pedestrian walkway and an extension of the city's new outdoor dining areas.

Grind co-owner Mike Mercatoris is eager to get in on the action, after he and part owner and chef Chris Heinz decided to move the popular burger joint from the old Loft space across the street to what used to be the Rib City Grill.

However, Mercatoris said he has had some delays getting his liquor license approved by the city, a problem he hopes to have rectified soon so they can make the move.

"We're super-excited about what's happening over here, and are ready to be a part of that," he said. "All our construction is done, the bar is ready, it's just a matter of getting the liquor license approved.

"There was always feeling that this side of the street was kind of dead, but that's changed," added Mercatoris, who also is part owner of the Riviera Supper Club on the opposite corner of Seventh and Grand. "Now there's just a lot of people hanging out in the pedestrian area, it's just packed."

Without the other new restaurants, he said he's not sure if the move to the street-level location would have made sense. Mercatoris said it will likely be another couple of months before the downstairs lounge will open.

Around the corner to the west, Slope & Hatch owner Derek Bray said he too has noticed a lot more pedestrian activity over the summer and as Smoke opened earlier this month.

"We're barely a year old ourselves, so it's kind of hard to tell what kind of impact it might have on us," Bray said. "But the summer was excellent for us. We're optimistic about anything that will bring people to our side of Grand Avenue. It all helps."

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