Q's Restaurant in the Hotel Boulderado closed last week; it's turning into Spruce. To understand that name, you need only look outside the circa 1909 hotel, which is located at Spruce and 13th streets in Boulder. The explanation of the name that's being abandoned is a little more complicated: Those with a long memory of the Boulder dining scene will connect the letter Q with Dave Query, the chef who was the restaurant's original owner two decades ago.
Query has since moved on to captain a growing number of dining establishments, many of which have become classics in their own right. Starting with Zolo Southwestern Grill in 1994, Query's Big Red F restaurant group went on to open Jax Fish House in Boulder.
That was soon followed by Lola, which first opened in Platt Park over a decade ago, then became a pioneer in the now red-hot LoHi neighborhood; then came other Boulder favorites, including Centro Latin Kitchen and the West End Tavern, as well as a misfire or two. Spotting a niche waiting to be filled, Big Red F opened the Post Brewing Company this past January, to the delight of hungry suburbanites in Lafayette.
The Jax brand has proven popular enough to support multiple locations -- not just Boulder, but LoDo, Fort Collins and, most recently, Glendale. And later this summer, Big Red F will unveil a Jax in Kansas City, Query's first restaurant beyond Colorado's borders.
The shuttering of Q's, along with all the recent Big Red F activity, prompted us to check in with Query, to ask about his time behind the burners at Q's and those formative days in the Colorado restaurant scene.
Westword: When did you leave Q's, and what were the circumstances?
Dave Query: I sold Q's to John Platt in June 1993. My family was ready for a change from Boulder, and we sold the restaurant and this killer little farmhouse in East Boulder and moved to Traverse City, Michigan, with two little boys, to stake a new claim. It was right after this kid from the University of Colorado named Paul Kelly got his head stomped on a curb on the Hill, and that was the log that lit the fire that we needed to get out of Boulder and head somewhere smaller. Ninety-two days later, from start to finish, after we had bought a house in Traverse City and started looking around to see what was next, we were back in Boulder raising some money to open Zolo. It was the summer I "took my furniture on vacation."
You can so easily convince yourself that where you are in life isn't right -- until you drastically change your scenery and then realize that the view was actually quite amazing.
What was your proudest moment or fondest memory at Q's?
We served really great food at Q's in those early years. I can name 271 restaurants and 319 chefs who weren't around back then, and we were doing something relevant and delicious. We got some stellar reviews from food critics who were really respected, and we made something out of a dining room smaller than a train car perched right above the entrance to the Boulderado. I remember a lot of chefs eating there, which is always an honor. Pat Miller thought enough of what we were doing to bring in chef Julian Serrano, whom I had staged under at Masa in San Francisco, and he was genuine and honest with his love for what chef John Platt and I were doing. It was a real honor. I met a lot of my present business partners while serving them at a dining table at Q's, which is awesome. And for two years, I got to work next to the hardest-working man to ever tie an apron in the restaurant business, John Platt. Platt ran Q's for 21 years, eventually moving it downstairs. [Platt is currently chef and co-owner of Riff's Urban Fare in Boulder.]
Do you have a favorite dish from your Q's menu? Anything that you've kept in your repertoire or adapted over time?
We made great crab cakes at Q's, which still can be found at Jax. We made great rellenos, because we were small enough to do them right. We used local farmers like Chet Anderson and Chris Burke, trout from Fort Collins, lots of local lamb, beef and pork, and a slew of new local cheese makers like Wakan and Haystack every single day we could, before it was really hip and trendy to call that "farm to table." Back then it was called "finding good local food." Funny, too -- that's what they've called it in Europe for hundreds of years.
Keep reading for more Q & A with Dave Query...
Any funny stories or kitchen disasters?
We had a lot of great chefs come through and hang out with us: James Van Dyk, Bradford Heap; Greg Bortz was our pastry chef. But the reason to get out of bed each day and look forward to work was the fun we had kicking the shit out of Tyler Wiard every day. Tyler was a junior at CU, and he and I had worked together at Cliff Young's. So I brought him in to Q's and I think he gleaned a thing or two, but it definitely came at a price to his sanity. [Platt] and I both had little brothers, but they all lived elsewhere. Knocking Tyler around became good fun -- sport, almost.
What did you learn from the experience that you've kept with you at Big Red F?
I worked that little dining room every night like a Kennedy in an election year. Spoke to every single table, made eye contact with every single diner. A privilege to be able to do that, and something that gets harder and harder for chefs to accomplish. You can tell a lot in a short second about a customer's experience if you are paying attention. And having that time on the floor, I think, allowed us to really be honest about who we had blown away with our food and service and who we hadn't. When it was "hadn't," which sometimes happens, we usually still had time to make it right, make a connection, assure a repeat visit. We try and still connect with our guests like that now every single night, which gets harder and harder as you get bigger and bigger, but that's just ours to keep figuring out.
I hear the place is haunted. Did you ever run into any ghosts in the Boulderado?
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Never saw a ghost. But we did cook for a lot of fun people, famous musicians, actors and politicos who stayed at the hotel. The kitchen was right off the mezzanine, and people would poke their heads in and stay a while. The actor Alan King had a daughter in Boulder whom he used to visit a lot at that time, and she worked during the day, so he would come into the kitchen and just hang around, tell stories, eat things I was prepping. Dude could tell a story, loved food and restaurants, and loved being in a kitchen.