It has been nine months since Seth Rubin baked his last biscuit — at least for paying customers — after shutting down his two Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafes, the breakfast eateries he operated inside Basil Doc’s Pizza branches in the West Highland and Hilltop neighborhoods. Basil Doc’s owner Mike Miller was launching his own breakfast service, so Rubin closed both locations at the end of December, which left him without an oven — or even a hook to hang his apron on.
But he wasn’t without a home for long: Rubin scouted around for a couple of months and then purchased his own building last spring. Now he’s nearly ready to resurrect Rise & Shine not far from one of the original locations.
JoAnn Turner had closed the Rustic Tavern at 5126 West 29th Avenue in February and was looking for a buyer for the building, which she’d owned for 58 years. Rubin was attracted to the neighborhood and to the historic (if somewhat threadbare) charm of the place. The two met and a deal was done; by March, Rubin was a commercial-property owner, something he’d planned on becoming from the moment he founded Rise & Shine five years ago. “I have a love/hate relationship with my new landlord,” he jokes. “I know where to find him, and I can’t escape him.”
On a more serious note, he adds, “It’s a really competitive market, especially when it comes to leasing commercial real estate.” So it made a lot more sense to own property rather than be at the whim of a landlord under a commercial lease.
Of course, that meant spending money, and lots of it. The Rustic opened in 1957, but the building itself dates to 1921. “I believe the original use was as a butcher shop,” Rubin notes. Bringing it up to modern standards of safety and ADA accessibility took time, but Rise & Shine is now in the final phases of construction.
One particularly notable change is the new front windows in the storefront, which replaced the Rustic’s tiny portholes. Rubin says he encountered layer upon layer of plywood and other building materials inside, but after that was all removed, it was evident that the place had once been much brighter and sunnier, so he was glad to restore some of its original architectural elements. He also saved some of the Rustic’s history. “There was a neon ‘Rustic Tavern’ sign in the back,” he says. “I still have the ‘Rustic’ part, so I’m trying to find a place for it.”
The location might be new, but fans of Rubin’s biscuits will recognize Rise & Shine’s menu. “The biscuit menu is very tried and true after five years of doing it,” he explains. “In fact, I just ordered thirty pounds of country ham from North Carolina for the opening week.”
That country ham is not only a fixture at Rise & Shine, it’s part of Rubin’s roots. He was born in Durham, North Carolina, and lived in Chapel Hill until after college. While professional food service wasn’t part of his formative years, home cooking was. “My greatest muse was hunger,” he recalls. “I’d get home from lacrosse practice — before my mom and dad got home — and go through Mom’s cookbooks and magazines.”
He was competitive with his sister and remembers that she tried to one-up him with a biscuit recipe when he was fourteen or fifteen, starting a biscuit battle that lasted until only a few years ago — when she finally “broke down and asked for my recipe,” he remembers. “I’ll be honest — I made a lot of bad biscuits when I was young.”
In college, he majored in urban development and planning; he moved to Colorado in 1999 because “it seemed like a good place to be” to pursue a career. But the economic downturn of the late 2000s led to a layoff, and while he was contemplating career options, Rubin heard about some other North Carolina expats who had opened Pine State Biscuits in Portland, Oregon. “I could do that,” he remembers thinking. “I like biscuits. I eat a lot of biscuits.”
It didn’t take Rubin long to put together a business plan and hone his biscuit recipe. As inspiration, he cites all of the great biscuit joints in North Carolina, with a particular nod to Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill. “You can’t really throw a stone without hitting a biscuit place in most towns in North Carolina,” he points out.
On the business side, one of his mentors was another early-morning specialist in Denver. “Craig Connor of Pablo’s was a huge influence on me and a great sounding board,” he notes.
Although the Denver Biscuit Company has expanded into north Denver with a new spot in the Berkeley neighborhood, Rubin believes there’s room for more than one biscuit specialist in that part of town. “I think our products are different enough that it’s not competition,” he explains. “They have a great model.”
Rise & Shine customers have asked Rubin to add sausage gravy to his offerings, but since he wants all of his sandwiches to be portable, he hasn’t done so: Smothered biscuits don’t travel well. “A cup of gravy is a cleaner, neater solution,” he continues, so that may be a future menu addition.
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Rubin considers himself a cooking traditionalist and sticks with a buttermilk formula for his standard biscuit, but he’s also offering a flavor of the day, which could be something like bacon and cheddar or the more adventurous beer-biscuit Fridays, when he uses a different local beer instead of buttermilk. He’s tried all of the standard offerings from Great Divide and nearby Hogshead Brewery, and has also worked with beers from Diebolt and Copper Kettle. He once created a light biscuit using Infinite Monkey Theorem’s pear cider, which he then stacked with pear, Brie and arugula. During last year’s Great American Beer Festival, he contacted the North Carolina Brewers Guild about obtaining some beer and “walked in one morning to a surprise of thirty different [North Carolina] beers,” he recalls.
Once Rise & Shine opens — Rubin is hoping for Halloween-morning breakfast service but knows how tough the final push can be — he’ll reserve one of his eight tap handles for a brewery from his home state; there will also be six beers from Colorado and one “exotic” draft. Because he’ll have a full liquor license, he’s looking at ways to extend into afternoon and evening business, but initially the eatery will be open from 7 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m. daily.
Rise & Shine will also offer a full range of brewed coffee and espresso drinks featuring beans from Pablo’s. And for his North Carolina customers, Rubin will stock Cheerwine sodas. Those North Carolinians make up a decent percentage of his customers; some of them were students of his father, who was a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But other regulars are just fans of good biscuits. “There were a lot of sad customers when they found out we were closing,” Rubin says.
And now they’re ready to rise and shine. Rubin says a loyal crew is following the restaurant’s progress on Facebook and checking with him regularly to see how soon they can get a biscuit sandwich. “People come from near and far to get a taste of home,” he says. And to them, home is anywhere the biscuit rises.