Ryan Fletter started working at Barolo Grill in 1994 — the year it opened — and took ownership of the Cherry Creek stalwart just over a year ago, after putting in nearly twenty years there (with a few brief stints away from the restaurant). Now, for the first time in its storied history, the restaurant founded by Blair Taylor is about to get a new sibling. Fletter has signed a lease at Avanti Food & Beverage and will open Chow Morso there at the beginning of October.
"The whole idea for me was that I never thought I'd do a multi-unit or dilute the Barolo name," Fletter explains. But he wanted to explore Italian street food beyond an occasional amuse bouche or passed appetizer at Barolo.
"Getting the visionary hat on about what's in the future for our team became important," he adds. "The Italian street-food concept was something we had originally — but they were more just around the edges."
And so the idea of Chow Morso was born, with a casual approach backed by the serious restaurant skills of Barolo chef Darrel Truett, who will serve as executive culinary director of Chow Morso, and Don Gragg, who will be executive chef. Gragg started at Barolo with Fletter in 1994 and departied shortly thereafter to pursue a career that has included Chez Panisse in California and Gramercy Tavern in New York.
The name Chow Morso reflects the plan to offer large portions (chow) or small bites (morso) of every dish. The menu will center around fresh and dried pastas (tagliatelle, rigatoni, gnocchi or gluten-free polenta cake) paired with a variety of sauces for under $15, with additional dishes like calamari skewers, savory doughnuts and other street-food bites.
"We wanted to do an offshoot — a totally different entity," Fletter continues. "This is a safe environment to do that. If something doesn't work, we can change it up immediately."
When the team initially began developing the Chow Morso concept, Fletter thought about looking for a location near Barolo Grill. He lives by Avanti in the LoHi neighborhood, though, and the restaurant incubator "was on my radar. I think our concept will go really well there, almost like a food truck without wheels," he says.
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"We've been operating out of our own little silo for 24 years — and doing it quite well," Fletter notes. "This is more like moving into the dorms for a year or two before moving out on your own."
And because Avanti is designed to be a springboard toward full brick-and-mortar status, the Barolo team is looking at the long-term picture rather than thinking of Chow Morso as a short-term project. The lease is for one year with an option to extend for a second year, and Fletter says he's already thinking about what will happen in month 13 after the lease ends — or in month 25, if he feels the concept needs more time to mature. "This not a recreational, let's-see-if-it works kind of project," he explains..
Chow Morso will take the place of Bixo Mexiterranean Bites on the ground floor of Avanti and will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and an hour later on Thursday through Saturday.