Sergio Romero, John Broening, Anika Zappe, Andrew Parr -- all big, bold industry heavyweights who have shared in the success of restaurateur Robert Thompson, owner of Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar and Punch Bowl - Social Food & Drink , which originated in Denver and now has a second location in Portland and two more on the horizon in Austin and Detroit. And with Thompson's forthcoming openings of Argyll Whisky Beer in Uptown and Griffin, a German beer hall in RiNo (3001 Brighton Boulevard), he's adding two more prominent names to the staff lineup: beer monarch Ryan Conklin and front-of-house duke Steve Kingsbury.
Conklin, a certified Cicerone (that's suds-speak for a super-high-achieving beer master), who's put in several years of experience behind the bars of numerous local restaurants, including Euclid Hall, Old Major, Colt & Gray, Ste. Ellie and Sweet Basil in Vail, will oversee the beer and whisky programs at both Argyll (slated to open in mid-May) and Griffin, which will uncork, says Thompson, "pre-Oktoberfest."
"We're showing a unique commitment to the integrity of both beer programs -- and to staff education -- and there's no one in this market or, I would argue, outside of this market, who has as much passion for beer as Ryan does," insists Thompson, who admits that he did cast his gaze further afield, albeit for less than a second. "We briefly looked outside Colorado, but we quickly realized that we had the best talent right outside our back door," he notes, adding, too, that Conklin is currently "slinging drinks" behind the bar of Punch Bowl, biding his time until Argyll opens.
The beer program at Argyll, reveals Thompson, will accent twenty taps, all of which will be devoted to "British and old-world-style Colorado beers." In addition, he'll have another 20 to 25 beers by the bottle; a cask-conditioned ale; "robust ciders," both on draft and by the bottle; beer-and-whisky flights served on wooden boards bolstered by tasting notes chalked by the bartenders; a cellar program, which will allow brew geeks to sip the same beer from a vertical of different vintages; and a reserve beer list.
Argyll's whisky syllabus, says Thompson, will highlight the "most-balanced and high-quality whisky program in Colorado," and the 110-seat space, he adds, will also have its own whisky library. "We're still working on how many whiskeys we'll eventually have, and Ryan is spending a lot of time immersing himself; he's becoming a whisky ambassador," notes Thompson.
While Conklin concentrates on beer and whisky, Patrick Williams, whose home turf is behind the stick at Punch Bowl, will consult on designing "everything else outside of Ryan's domain," says Thompson, adding that he's looking to hire a bar manager at Argyll, a bar manager, he shares, "who might potentially be tapped to run the bar program at Griffin, too."
"Beer is the glue that bonds both concepts," acknowledges Thompson, although Griffin will focus on Eastern European and German-focused beers, especially sours. The tap system will accommodate forty beers, and then there's the matter of barrels. "We'll have anywhere from five-to-ten, five-liter barrels that you can buy -- and we'll bring them to the table," he explains. A German beer garden, measuring 2,700 square feet, will also feature its own bar, two bocce ball courts and communal and traditional seating.
As for the food, which we'll expand upon when Griffin gets closer to opening, Thompson describes it as "modern German cuisine and Turkish street food." It's all "traditional stuff that's made with fresher ingredients and a nod to seasonality," he explains, pointing out, too, that Germans "eat a ton of Turkish street food," including doner kabobs, which will definitely be a showpiece on the menu. Sausages, of course, are part of the lineup, and they'll all be made in-house. And John Broening, culinary director of all of Thompson's concepts, save for Punch Bowl, the kitchen of which is in the hands of Romero, will oversee the menu creation at both Argyll and Griffin, as well as Le Grand.
And Steve Kingsbury, whose impressive career as general manager of Elway's Cherry Creek, Elway's at DIA and Elway's in Vail has spanned several years, is now part of the Argyll/Griffin team, again as the position of general manager. "Steve brings a level of service that's unparalleled," says Thompson. "He's one of the most professional front-of-house guys I've ever seen, and he not only commands respect from the staff, but he's deferential to his guests," he adds. "What differentiates one steakhouse from another," claims Thompson, is the "service and the sides, and Steve brings a level of professionalism that's consistent with the level of service that Elway's has perfected."
Thompson has recruited a terrific pool of talent, and while he's searching for a bar manager, he's also looking for two chef de cuisines, one at Argyll and a second at Griffin, to provide backup for Broening. "There's so much breadth and commitment in Denver, and we're giving people some really great opportunities to be a part of a fantastic team," he says. We're off to the races," he concludes.
If you're interested in applying for a chef de cuisine position, drop off a resume at Le Grand; to apply for the bar manager position, drop off your resume at Punch Bowl, attention: Patrick Williams.
Thompson also shared some "badass" architectural renderings of Griffin, which are posted on the next page.
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