Leonard Cordova, the grandson of the late and legendary Chubby's founder Stella Cordova, plans to open his ninth Bubba Chino's restaurant this spring at the corner of East Colfax and Franklin Street in the former Fanny's Corner flower shop.
The Mexican burrito place will bring the quickly growing chain's distinctive green chile to central Denver and breathe some life into the long and mostly vacant historic building.
"I think we are going to blow up there," says Cordova.
The restaurant, 1600 East Colfax, will start with a walk-up window and a few seats when it opens. After that, Cordova, who is leasing the space, plans to clean up and renovate one room at a time on the inside and add seating and Bubba Chino's metal décor as he goes.
"That building is beautiful inside. It has spiral wooden staircases and a big, beautiful chandelier and stained glass windows," Cordova says, adding that he plans to make it beautiful on the outside as well by turning it into a showpiece for the Bubba Chino's brand. Eventually, he'd like to convert the third-story rooftop into an open air patio.
Cordova opened his first restaurant at 160 Federal Boulevard in 1999 as a Chubby's Bubba Chino's, but had to stop using the Chubby's name after legal disputes with other family members. He has started at least ten more since then (though some have closed) and sold the operational rights to most of them to other friends or relatives.
"I don't give them my recipes, but I supply the chile and salsa to them," says Cordova, whose recipes are similar to his grandmother's.
Stella Cordova, who died in 2009 at the age of 100, founded the original Chubby's forty years ago at 1231 West 38th Avenue, where it is still going strong. Over the past decade, however, various relatives, including Leonard, took the famous name and opened versions of her restaurant all over town and into the suburbs and surrounding cities.
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Although other family members would disagree, Leonard Cordova says he feels like he is continuing her legacy. "My grandmother had a good heart and she served the community. I want to do that, too. It's not about the money. It's about the food. I am capturing the cool, hip crowds, whether they are white, black or Mexican."
With the help of an investor who is familiar with branding and expansion, Cordova is also planning to open to other Bubba Chino's locations in the near future, one on the Hill in Boulder and one at 90th and Federal in the former Rooster's Roadhouse.
"I do want to go nationwide," he says. "I can't use the Chubby's name, but I have made a name of my own."