At 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the phone call that Steve Ballas and his wife, Linda, had been waiting eleven months to get, finally came. On the other end of the horn was Keith Montoya, owner of Denver-based Doc 1 Solutions, and the local partner with LS Travel Retail, a multi-billion dollar company that operates specialty retail stores and restaurants in 120 airports worldwide.
Montoya opened the conversation with four words: "We got it, Steve!"
Those words, Steve soon learned, could potentially change his life. Montoya was calling Steve to let him know that a second outpost of his eponymous hot dog hideout, Steve's Snappin' Dogs, would be opening at Denver International Airport, joining of slew of other local restaurants, including Elway's, Root Down and Udi's, all of which are opening on Concourse B within the next year, some as early as spring; Cru, a Wine Bar and two Vino Volos are already open.
"As soon as Keith told me, I screamed, 'Shit, Linda, we got it!' We were bouncing up and down like crazy. I believed it, but I still couldn't believe it," says Steve, who adds that he's still in a daze.
The process began nearly a year ago, when Steve delivered a presentation before Denver City Council's Business, Workforce and Sustainability Committee. He, along with three other local hot dog/sausage vendors, including Biker Jim's, Billy's Hot Dogs and Uber Sausage, was vying for a coveted space at the eighth-busiest restaurant in the world, and the fifth-busiest airport in the country.
"I showed that same passion as I did on the phone to the committee, says Ballas, who admits he was a "nervous wreck" leading up to the presentation. But, he says, once he walked through the door, the jitters subsided, and he was on a roll. "I remember thanking the panel for a potentially life-changing opportunity, telling them that the chance to present to them was a dream come true, and that I'd been hoping for a shot like this for six years," recalls Steve. "I asked them to picture themselves walking to the gate with their family, all of whom are hungry, except that your wife eats healthy, your daughter is a vegan, your son is on a strict gluten-free diet, and you're a meat eater and a french fry fanatic, and I asked them, 'Where are going to go?'" His answer, of course, was Steve's Snappin' Dogs. "You're going to go to Steve's for local flavor and brand recognition because you know that we have something for everyone."
His pitch worked, and by this time next year, Steve will have a second Snappin' Dogs under his bun. "I can't even begin to tell you how ecstatic we are," reiterates Steve, who opened his original brick-and-mortar in 2006 and will celebrate its seventh anniversary on February 20th, where he'll unleash a hidden stash of Twinkies.
"For a small business like this, there's nothing better than getting a phone call telling you that you're going to have a restaurant at a world-class restaurant," says Steve, who will license the restaurant to LS Travel Retail. "I won't be running the day-to-day operations, but I'll definitely be there to make sure the same quality remains and our philosophies are still in place," he stresses.
The 1,400-square-foot space, which is near Udi's, will be similar to the original location on East Colfax. "The space is really reminiscent of my first store, but it will have a real Colorado feel," reveals Steve. "We'll have a muraled landscape of Colorado woods in autumn and lots of slate rock, and when you walk in, you'll definitely feel like you're in Colorado."
The quarters will include a dining room, separate bar, where the staff will pour local beers, many produced at Bull & Bush, and wines from Infinite Monkey Theorem and Bonacquisti, both based in Denver. In addition, he'll offer a grab-and-go area touting burritos, chili, salads and dogs -- and he'll feature breakfast, too. "We'll be open 365 days a year and 366 days a year when it's a leap year," quips Steve.
He admits that the competition was fierce -- Biker Jim called him yesterday to offer his congratulations -- but Steve says he's not surprised he won the bid. "I'm the Denver pioneer of hot dogs. I started a hot dog truck nine years ago at the Cherry Creek Farmers' Market; for three years, I was the sole concessionaire at Glendale's Infinity Park; Westword has given us six "Best of" awards for our hot dogs; and I've donated more that $16,000 to Project Angel Heart, Denver public schools, and to all sorts of other nonprofits; plus, we have a great price point, and I think the combination of those things may have given me a slight edge," he reasons, noting that the committee was looking for "local flavor."
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An while there's still a lengthy process ahead, along with more negotiations, Steve is beyond exited to expand his wings. I'm still flying high at 30,000 feet," he says.