"This year has been awesome, scary, rewarding, exciting, educational and eye-opening, and reaching the one-year mark is humbling," reflects Kevin Morrison, who will celebrate the first anniversary of his Highland taqueria, Pinche: Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey this afternoon and evening with a parade of food-and-drink specials. But while today's jubilee will undoubtedly have a festive tone to it, Morrison admits that this past year has had it share of disappointment.
"Our first year was great, and we were very happy with the numbers we did, but from an ownership standpoint, I was disappointed with myself," reveals Morrison. "I was distracted by health and personal issues and realized that I didn't do a great job when it came to putting the right people in place to succeed." It was a year, he adds, that was "nothing short of humbling."
Nonetheless, Morrison, who opened the original Pinche in the fall of 2011, has generated mountains of accolades for his whimsical take on street tacos, including Denver's Best New Restaurant, an award that we gave to Pinche in our 2012 Best of Denver issue. And while Morrison has always been a hands-on owner, his role, he says, has changed over the last year. "The majority of my job now is training and speaking with the staff, in groups and one-on-one, about the Pinche philosophy, the restaurant business, guest expectations, staff expectations, food, beverages, décor and music; anything and everything is open for discussion," he says. "I always tell the staff that if I'm the smartest person in the room, then we're in trouble," jokes Morrison, who's clearly taken steps to bond with -- and strengthen -- his staff.
"I want them to share their ideas, passion, knowledge, great experiences at other jobs and bad experiences at other jobs so we can build a stronger restaurant and create an overall great experience for the guest," explains Morrison. "We have a great team in place at both locations, and we don't take that for granted. We view our staff like we view our guests, and we always try to exceed their expectations," he adds.
Morrison notes, too, that while he's wistful that Pinche didn't make the 2013 cut in 5280 magazine's annual 25 Best Restaurants issue (Pinche was ranked No. 24 in the 2012 issue), the scratch was his own fault. "That was on me, but we learned from it and moved forward; we're always looking forward, although once in a while we look back to double check things in order to keep moving forward," says Morrison.
Still, Morrison is highly successful (and even searching for a third location), even if he deflects the praise. "I try to hire people who are smarter than me (that's pretty easy to do), people who have thick skin, and people who I want to be around," he muses. "With apologies to my mom, I don't care about degrees, experience, your background or resumes," he adds. "Shit, I look good on paper, but what matters the most -- and what I love -- is working with people who show me what they can do, not just one day, but every damn day. That's sexy."
Today's Pinche Highand bash kicks off at 3 and continues until 10 p.m., with complimentary tequila and whiskey sips and discounted margaritas and paloma cocktails. In addition, there's a staff party from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., which the public is encouraged to attend. "I'll also be sending out samples of new dishes that I've been working on, including tacos, appetizers, salads, crudos and desserts," says Morrison, noting that he's considering adding some of those dishes to the menu, while others may appear on the menus of upcoming chef dinners, an idea that Morrison is mulling over.
"To think that you make food and drinks that the public wants over and over again is definitely a humbling experience. Thank god for foodies," concludes Morrison.
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Happy anniversary, and here's to many more years of tacos, tequila and whiskey.