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Breckenridge-Wynkoop CEO Lee Driscoll Talks About Wazee Supper Club's 40th Anniversary

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It would be another ten years before John Hickenlooper and his Wynkoop Holdings group would purchase the Wazee from original owner Angelo Karagas -- which is when Lee Driscoll enters the story. Now CEO of Breckenridge-Wynkoop LLC, the joint restaurant and brewing venture that currently owns the supper club, Driscoll has been a part of the Wazee's history for almost half of its life. And despite overseeing a stable of other breweries and restaurants -- from the original Wynkoop Brewing Company a few blocks away to the far-flung Phantom Canyon and Breckenridge brewpubs in Colorado Springs and Breckenridge, respectively -- Driscoll has a soft spot in his heart for the old corner joint that still retains a vintage vibe and regulars'-hangout appeal, even after a 2012 facelift.

Those renovations included opening up the space with more street-facing windows, a move Driscoll says makes sense now that the viaducts are gone. The signs above the front door may be a little too clean and modern for some who still long for the old days, but the original signage can be found on the inside wall. "It's still seedy and cool at the same time," Driscoll says of the overall atmosphere. His favorite table is upstairs on the slightly smaller balcony, where you can look over the place and "see and feel authenticity."

Change is inevitable, whether for the entire neighborhood or just for one aging eatery. You can cling to the old and grubby as some symbol of an idealized past (that probably wasn't so ideal), or you can work to revitalize the bones of a place without destroying its soul. According to Driscoll, the company's goal for the Wazee is to "honor the history while keeping [the restaurant] relevant so people can feel the authenticity." Bigger bathrooms, a modernized kitchen and a little more space make it a better workplace for employees while improving the overall guest experience.

As for the Wazee's legendary pizza, Driscoll and the restaurant's managers realized that some things don't need to change. After some experimentation with different doughs, sauces and crusts, the current version isn't all that different from what customers enjoyed twenty or thirty years ago. And what style is that pizza -- East Coast, Denver, some hybrid of thin-crust and deep-dish? "It's Wazee pizza," Driscoll asserts, adding that the surest approach is to "stick with what we do. If you want it, you come to the Wazee."

The challenge for the entire Breckenridge-Wynkoop group is keeping up with a booming Denver restaurant market without sacrificing what has made their places special over the years. Part of that is maintaining an owner/operator feel and a commitment from the managers on down to welcome new faces and treat longtime regulars with the same service they've known for decades. Driscoll points out that Rita Reeverts has worked at the Wazee for over thirty years and knows all the lunch customers. Although she's now a manager, Reeverts has pitched in on many odd jobs over the years -- including painting the ceiling during the renovation -- and will still deliver a pie now and then.

The Wazee Supper Club will hold a fortieth-anniversary party on Friday, September 26, when a large supreme pizza will be $19.74 all day and 40-cent pints of Rail Yard Ale in Wazee Anniversary Pint Glasses will be served to the first hundred customers who show up at 6 p.m. "With so many new places opening up in Denver, it's a major celebration to recognize one of the original places that's been serving Denver for four decades," says Driscoll. "This throwback party is our way of thanking our loyal customers who've been such an important part of the Wazee's history."

Keep reading for a Q & A with Lee Driscoll...

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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