Six days after a break-in caused over $350,000 in damage, Highland eatery Bar Dough reopened on June 10. "I'm excited to finally be able to just start running this restaurant," says chef Russell Stippich, who took the helm only two weeks before the 2020 restaurant shutdown.
Things were just beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels of normal before a homeless man whom Stippich had hired as a dishwasher but who then quit the job entered through the back door at 2:40 a.m. on June 5 and vandalized the place — an act caught on camera.
"I was mad at first," Stippich says, explaining that he wondered whether he'd made a mistake hiring the man, who'd applied for the position using a computer at the Denver Public Library. The man was only on the job one day before deciding the schedule wouldn't work for him. Then he returned in the middle of the night, entering through a back door using the employee code.
But owner Juan Padró, whose Culinary Creative group also owns Highland Tap & Burger next door, Señor Bear, Mister Oso, the upcoming A5 steakhouse and more, assured Stippich that he'd made the right call. "One of our core values is to help the community," Stippich says. "Sometimes it backfires. Most of the time it doesn't."
You have to break a few eggs — or in this case, a lot of glass — to make an omelet, after all. Photos posted on Padró's Facebook page show a large hole in a glass panel near the front door, scattered skillets and wine corks, POS screens covered in cracks, broken glassware and liquor bottles, and more. "Nothing stolen," Padró said at the time, "but we will be open in four to five days, and there are people hurting out there."
His employees shared that sentiment. "All [the staff] could think about was donating food that could be spoiled to help others," Padró explains. In just a few hours, the Bar Dough team was able to donate 65 pounds of beef, 25 pounds of chicken, six pounds of greens and some dairy to those in need.
"Despite this, I truly am lucky," Padró says, noting that no one was hurt and the crime was caught on camera. The highlight from the footage? The man somehow managed to throw a bottle of Fernet nearly seventy feet from the bar directly into a deep fryer at the end of the kitchen line. Shots of fernet will hold new meaning for the Bar Dough team after this.
Stippich is also grateful that no one was hurt in the chaos. "One hour earlier and we would have had people in here, closing," he says. "We're just really thankful."
Members of the Denver restaurant community stepped up to help. Sean Kenyon, proprietor of Williams & Graham and the Occidental, and Tommy Lee, owner of nearby Uncle and RiNo's Hop Alley, among others, offered to feed the staff. Coffee, tacos and even stress relief from a local dispensary was all delivered as the staff cleaned up the mess.
One bright spot? "Everyone working here right now has been here through the entire pandemic, with no days off other than their regular weekends," Stippich says. "These are some of the hardest-working people on the entire planet, and they got some well-deserved time off." Stippich even managed to develop a new pizza during the closure, topped with green onion cream, onions, local cherry tomatoes and torn burrata.
After a stressful year, the break-in was a blow. But the Bar Dough team stepped up and turned it into a chance to serve others...just not at their restaurant for a few days. "We're still looking for another dishwasher," Stippich adds, "if you know anyone."
Bar Dough is located at 2227 West 32nd Avenue and is open 3 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit bardoughdenver.com.
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