Word of Mouth

Abejas Owner Chips In Now, Looks to the Future to Reopen

Abejas is temporarily closed during the coronavirus shutdown.
Abejas is temporarily closed during the coronavirus shutdown. Courtesy of Abejas
"Restaurants are moving trains," notes Brandon Bortles, owner of Abejas and Nosu Ramen in Golden. "There are always projects you want to get done."

And so when the coronavirus restaurant shutdown was announced by Governor Jared Polis on March 16, Bortles thought that temporarily closing Abejas, an upscale eatery known for its local, seasonal menus, would be better than trying to limp through with takeout or delivery service. "The writing was on the wall, so we laid everyone off the day before the announcement to give them a head start on applying for unemployment," the restaurateur explains. "And that week we gave away about $8,000 to $10,000 of food to our staff."

Closing the restaurant also gave Bortles the chance to tackle some much-needed kitchen renovations, and he decided to do the work himself, along with a couple of employees who were having trouble getting registered for unemployment payments. He had just opened Nosu less than a year ago, and had watched contractors do some of the work he was planning for Abejas, so he felt confident he could get the job done.

Two weeks later he was facing a cement patch that didn't set properly and clogged drains from the floor work he was doing. A plumber wanted too much money to clear the drain, and Bortles was at the end of his rope, but he eventually got the water flowing again and found a supplier for better-quality cement and epoxy to finish the job right. It turns out, he says, that Home Depot isn't the best source for commercial-grade products. With the work back on track, he adds that it was worth it to tackle the job himself, even with the added hassles.

click to enlarge Nosu Ramen in Golden is doing takeout for now. - COURTESY OF NOSU RAMEN
Nosu Ramen in Golden is doing takeout for now.
Courtesy of Nosu Ramen
Over at Nosu, a much more rewarding experience was unfolding. Bortles has kept his ramen shop open for pick-up, since the food travels better than the upscale cuisine at Abejas. So he's been able to keep a few of his staff employed, and he's also participating in the BGoldN project, which is helping feed people in need of a meal during the coronavirus crisis, in conjunction with the Golden Packpack Program, an existing organization that gives food to hungry kids on the weekends when they're out of school.

Last week, Nosu packed up fifty breakfasts and fifty lunches that were handed out at a Golden middle school, and the plan is to continue as one of several Golden restaurants participating in the program on a weekly basis.

Bortles says that business has been steady at Nosu, but the future is far from certain. He's looked at the loans and other financial assistance available to help restaurants reopen after the shutdown, but he's not sure which ones are right for his business. Abejas turns five this summer, a milestone the owner was hoping to celebrate with the end of his original loans. "I've worked sixty to seventy hours a week for five years, and I was supposed to have it paid off in August," he explains. "Taking on more debt isn't something I had planned on.

"Who knows what the restaurant landscape will look like?" he adds. "We'll be reopening in what will likely be a recession."

Abejas was on the leading edge of a restaurant renaissance in Golden when it opened five years ago, and Nosu Ramen has added something new to the foothills town. Bortles doesn't know if there will be room for a high-end eatery in a post-coronavirus economy, but he also worries that offering a simpler menu will drive away loyal customers. For now, there are people in need of a good meal, and Bortles and his team are helping to provide that through BGoldN, and they hope to continue as one of the town's top restaurant groups once the crisis is over.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation