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Advice From Ten Denver Chefs on Opening a Restaurant

We recently talked to five new restaurant owners on the pitfalls and lessons-learned of opening their own eateries. Here they — and a few other chefs who've piloted kitchens in their opening days — give advice for others who are thinking about going it solo. 1. “Get everything in writing...
Elise Wiggins opened her first restaurant, Cattivella, this past summer.
Elise Wiggins opened her first restaurant, Cattivella, this past summer. Jennifer Koskinen
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We recently talked to five new restaurant owners on the pitfalls and lessons-learned of opening their own eateries. Here they — and a few other chefs who've piloted kitchens in their opening days — give advice for others who are thinking about going it solo.
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Annette opened this spring at the Stanley Marketplace.
Danielle Lirette
1. “Get everything in writing. You’re working with so many types of people, from landlords to engineers to contractors. If you forget to get it in writing, it will come back to bite you.”
Caroline Glover, Annette

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The staff at Elise Wiggins's Cattivella handle a wide range of cooking techniques.
Danielle Lirette
2. “If I want to do a second restaurant, I’d make sure my team is really committed. I’d have them sign a commitment letter. If they were on the fence, that would weed them out, and I’d be better prepared.”
Elise Wiggins, Cattivella

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Regan and Louie Colburn started Ohana as a walk-up lunch window before moving to their current location.
Laura Shunk
3. “Hire slow and fire fast. Those are not my own words. You’re compromised by retaining employees who don’t make the cut. With the personnel shortage, you’re inclined to accommodate employees much more — but if you’re resisting, you’re in for a reality check.”
Louie Colburn, Ohana Island Kitchen

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Ryan Taylor has taken the reins at Hickory & Ash.
Chad Chisolm with Custom Creations
4. “The biggest challenge is staffing. There are 13,000 unfilled line-cook positions in Colorado. It’s so hard to find staff. It’s hard to find people who want to cook.”
Ryan Taylor, Hickory & Ash

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Alex Figura making bread at Dio Mio.
Danielle Lirette
5. “If we were going to do construction ourselves again, I’d prefer to do it on a smaller model — something with a smaller footprint and base infrastructure rather than renovate a whole new space that was never a restaurant. If some of that stuff was in place, it’d be a lot easier.”
Alex Figura, Dio Mio

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Spencer White (right) and Alex Figura launched Dio Mio in RiNo less than a year ago.
Holly Hursely
6. “If you’re not always learning something about food, you’re not growing, and you’re going to hate your job as a cook. If you’re not thinking about ways to give better service, you’re going to stagnate with your customers.”
Spencer White, Dio Mio

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Matt Selby was the opening chef for Bremen's.
Laura Shunk
7. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going the distance and you’re not taking care of guests and staff.”
Matt Selby, on opening Bremen’s Wine & Tap

Corey Baker (left) at Sushi Ronin.
Danielle Lirette
8.“If you’re a professional, keep the professionalism and passion, and everything will fall into place. And I try to hold on to my staff. It breaks my heart if someone leaves. We’re a family, but I also try to make an environment that they don’t want to leave.”
Corey Baker, Sushi Ronin

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Thach Tran was the executive chef for Stella's on 16th.
Mark Antonation
9. With a market or casual concept, “the training and service side is more of a challenge. In fine dining, you’re hiring super-professionals. This is not traditional, so it’s hard to find servers, because we’re not really full-service.”
Thach Tran, on opening the now-defunct Stella’s on 16th

10. “You will jump, and the universe will send you a net. But you have to have the most courage. You have to jump when it’s fucking scary.”
Andrea Frizzi, Il Posto
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