When I opened Zolo 26 years ago, many of my chef heroes at the time were entrenched in Southwest cooking. Brendan Walsh of Arizona 206 in NYC, Michael McCarty of Michael’s in Santa Monica, and our own “local- Detroit transplant” Jimmy Schmidt at The Rattlesnake Club in Denver. The food was bold, centered, and exciting. When I had Chef Mark Miller from The Coyote Cafe cooking in my Zolo kitchen a few years after we opened, it was like Christmas, Easter, my birthday, and 4th of July mornings all in one moment for me. I love this food and the history and tradition behind it. An anthropologist turned chef, Miller was and is a kook, in all the greatest meanings of the word.
Fast forward 25 years and Zolo had lost a step or three. Any good dancer or actor or athlete or chef has to admit when she or he ain’t hittin’ the marks and nailing the performance. That is where I felt we were at with Zolo prior to closing for this equally kooky global pandemic. It was iconic, had history and longevity and by my estimation, had served almost 3 million meals to Boulder diners and tourists since 1994. Lots of first and last dates, birthdays, promotion and graduation celebrations, marriage proposals, divorce tequila shots, and everything and anything in between that cause folks to congregate in a restaurant. Kids asleep in car seats in the late ‘90s, who are servers and busses and bartenders for us now. These are the things you get to celebrate when you’re in business for decades and decades. I’m following in the footsteps of my friends, the Monette Family, at The Flagstaff House and Alan, Janet, Jim, and Donna at The Cork. 50-year-old businesses that follow families through generations — restaurants that families trust to deliver outstanding food, delicious beverages and memorable hospitality. It’s an honor to have that trust, and one that needs to be evaluated almost daily as to its mutual commitment of restaurant to diner.
I feel as though Zolo needed a change. A big change. A big heart and brain shaking to wake it back up and demand more of itself. I considered closing it during all of this chaos. Be an easy story to tell: “After 26 years, we are throwing in the towel — gonna focus on other things.” But that would be the easy way out. The lease, after 26 years is certainly on the more expensive side of our ledger of our 14 restaurants, but Gart Properties, our landlord, has shown an amazing and beautiful side of human and business kindness and worked with us to find a solution. Rare in these Covid days to find landlords who are actually taking a partnership approach to all of this. Everyone’s true character is shining bright in business these days. Luckily for us, in several instances our landlords have demonstrated that they get it and are willing to jump in with us together. Others, not so much…destiny awaits.
So that brings us to last night — reopening Zolo. It was amazing to have our regulars walking through the front doors again. Sitting at their favorite tables, sliding into booths, getting their Zolo swerve on and feeling like something, at least in that moment, felt normal.
We have changed the menu at Zolo. We are stepping out of our Southwest trappings and into our Colorado surroundings. Yes, Colorado is in the Southwest, so we ain’t leaving the region, but rather drilling down more closely to home. Chef Kyle Mendenhall, who has been BRF’s executive chef for over a year now, along with Zolo chef David Engle and myself, have written a menu that is simple, delicious, and really close to home. Trout from Colorado, local produce and cheeses from all of our wonderful farmers. Wild mushrooms from foragers. Colorado lamb and beef. More fish options, more simple salads, and some incredible desserts — including fresh lavender and honey ice cream with pine nut cookies crumbled on top.
Smoked chicken salad and chicken enchiladas and that killer burger are still on the menu, of course — we ain’t dumb!!!
But lots of changes. We gave the dining room a face lift. We created a cocktail list featuring drinks made from local distilleries with local botanicals. And our commitment to ZoLoLoVe, which has been there from the beginning 26 years ago, is stronger than ever.
So I invite y’all to come check out Zolo when the time is right for you. We have given it some long overdue attention, a long overdue critical eye, and are now cooking and serving some really delicious food and drinks. Sometimes there are silver linings in tough times. This is one for us and for me — giving Zolo a long overdue big kick in the ass and getting our mojo there back on the right path.
Look forward to seein’ all y’all soon…anywhere.
Be safe. Big love.
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