It's been a smashing week for Smashburger. The Denver-based chain of fast-casual burger restaurants has suddenly exploded, with plenty of ink documenting how it's gone big-time. First, Nation's Restaurant News tapped the operation as one of its "Hot Concepts" for 2009 — a very big deal in the highly competitive QSR (Quick-Service Restaurant) community, and more or less tantamount to gilding the name with gold from a franchise-and-investment standpoint. Then came last week's announcement that thirty new locations would be opening in and around Dallas, since the company had inked a franchise deal with two Dallas Cowboys, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. That was followed by another announcement, that an eleven-store agreement had been made to bring Smashburger to Chicago — news that drove that burger-mad city into spasms of joy.
You know who doesn't call me very often? Other reporters. That's because when a reporter is working — looking for quotes, maybe even actual facts — he wants a clear, straightforward and level-headed recitation of information. What he doesn't want is some over-excited weirdo cursing and chain-smoking and talking about burger restaurants in relation to Leviticus (which was exactly how I told Smashburger's story back in October '07, in my review a few months after the first store opened at 1120 South Colorado Boulevard). And yet, last week I took calls from no fewer than three reporters researching Smashburger — which just goes to show how desperate these poor sons-of-bitches must've been.
Anyway, by the current count, Smashburger now has 23 locations up and running in four states. Twelve of those locations are in Colorado, with eight in Denver alone. And another eight Colorado locations are already booked for 2009-2010 — in Grand Junction, Broomfield, Boulder, Arvada, Aurora, Colorado Springs (two spots) and — more joy! — downtown Denver, at an address that has yet to be revealed.
But the five-year plan? That calls for the chain to grow to more than two hundred locations — a crazy rate by any calculation and a seriously big number even in the age of Chipotle. Because at that point, Smashburger will be just seven years old.
On the bounce: Word came down last week that Charlie Master — well-known floorman-about-town and scion of the former Mel's restaurant empire — was packing it in at Sketch (101 Broadway), leaving his gig with Jesse Morreale and Sean Yontz to become the new FOH guy for Goose Sorensen at Solera (5410 East Colfax Avenue).
"I'm excited about going to work for Goose," Charlie told me when I got him on the blower late last week. "One of the things I really miss is representing a restaurant," he said — which means being out in the front, pressing the flesh and making sure that everyone is having the best time possible (which, usually, means having as good a time as Charlie is). Being behind the bar at Sketch (or stuck doing office work) was cutting him off from that end of the business.
Still, Charlie had nothing but good things to say about Yontz and Morreale. "They taught me a ton," he insisted, and between his experiences inside the Morreale machine and his time running Brix a couple years back, he feels he's now much better prepared for the inevitable day when he gets the itch and starts looking (again) to open a place of his own.
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For the time being, Charlie will split his time between Sketch and Solera (where he worked over Christmas last year), transitioning to Sorensen's house full-time at the end of August to act as floorman, sommelier and all-around Good Time Charlie.
"I needed some more fine dining in my life," he said. "I can't wait."
Leftovers: Lots of dining-scene action in July. Need a refresher? For starters, House — not to be confused with Home or Second Home — is now open in the space at 4363 Tennyson Street that once held Gemelli's. In the former home of a second Nine75 that failed long before the original Nine75 closed two weeks ago (and that would be 2831 West 120th Avenue in Westminster), there's another outlet of the Sherlock Holmes-themed Baker St. Pub & Grill. Two unusual takeout-and-delivery-only pizza joints opened last month, too, each with its own odd twist: First, Denver Pizza Company (309 West 11th Avenue) was brought to us by ex-The Bachelorette contestant Mark Huebner, and then there was Mary Jane's Pizza (2013 West 32nd Avenue) which, all cuteness aside, caters to people who really like to get high, with hours that run from 11 p.m. to 4:20 a.m. On top of that, we got two new Brazilian restaurants: the high-end Fogo de Chao (in a new space at 1513 Wynkoop Street, focusing on churrasco), and the low-key Samba Brazil (in an old space at 5075 Leetsdale Drive, focusing on snacks, sandwiches and empanadas). And let's not forget the long-anticipated second Snooze, which opened last Friday at 700 South Colorado Boulevard.
And that's just a slice of what happened in July. For a complete rundown of all the openings, closings, plots and plans, check out Cafe Society at westword.com.