Rayme Rossello has steadily grown the Comida empire since launching the big pink food truck in Boulder County in spring of 2010: after opening a brick-and-mortar cantina in Longmont in 2012, she went on to build Denver and Aurora locations at The Source and Stanley Marketplace. But change is coming: Rossello is shuttering the Longmont Comida at 721 Confidence Drive on October 28.
Rossello says this decision did not come easily; she's debt-free on the property, and she felt compelled to keep the restaurant open for her staff. "I kept that restaurant open for the people who spend so much time there," she says. "They’re amazing, and I'm so grateful they’ve been there as long as they have."
Still, Rossello says it was a more financially sound decision to close up shop: "In Longmont, it hasn’t been about making money, but I want it to be at least supporting me financially and not drawing from me. This isn’t a hobby; this is my livelihood. It's what I spend a good deal of my time doing."
And to keep growing, she adds, she'd have to make changes at that location that she wasn't comfortable making: "We could get our vegetables from someone else, and not buy biodegradable, and pay less — because I pay more — but who can live on minimum wage? I could do those things and make it grow, but I’m not interested in that."
Plus, her lease was up and her longtime chef Serena Romero, who's been part of Comida from the beginning, was ready for a change. "Serena, after seven and a half years, came to me and said, 'I’m tired,'" says Rossello. "She's fifty-something, she's worked her tail off for the last six years, and I don’t want to do it without her."
Macro-level forces also had an effect on her decision: Rossello points out that the current economy and staffing crisis plaguing the restaurant industry aren't friendly to any restaurateurs, especially in a market like Longmont, where it's even harder to find talent. "We went six months in the restaurant just looking for one line cook," she says. "It was over six months before we finally landed on someone, and we had to be creative about it. That’s crazy to me." As testament to that, Rossello says several area restaurateurs have reached out, asking her to send over staffers looking for jobs.
The Longmont closure precipitated a couple of immediate changes: The truck, which had long operated out of that location for private events, moved down to the Stanley Marketplace location (2501 Dallas Street in Aurora), where Rossello says her crew has eagerly and lovingly taken command of it. And the Longmont Comida is currently closed on Sunday and Monday, so that Rossello can stay open with her current staff without overworking anyone.
"I really struggled with how do I do this, and there isn’t a right way," she says. "I didn’t feel like it was having everyone show up on a Sunday and announcing that we’re closed, but I understand why restaurant owners do that. You want to pay all the bills and make sure people get paychecks."
While Rossello says Comida may continue to grow in the future — she looked at a couple of Boulder locations whose openings would have dovetailed with this closure before ultimately passing on the opportunities — she says she's looking forward to taking a step back and focusing on her Denver locations, which are thriving. "I don’t feel like I grew too quickly; it doesn't feel unmanageable," she notes. "But I am only one person with no partners, and right now, I have lessons to learn and things to get better at before I grow some more. I don’t feel any pressure to continue to grow. I want these [locations] to make money, pay the bills and make people happy."
And she's sad about leaving Boulder County, which is where Comida started, and where her home is: "The neighborhood and support Boulder County has given us, I want to extend my gratitude. My apologies for not being able to stick it out, but know this is the right thing for me to do, for myself and business and family. If I could keep Longmont open, I would. It’s my home; it was an incredible jumping-off point."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.