Chef News

Four Golden Guys Make Bonfire Burritos Their Own

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After the four graduated, in 2006, they went on to college along the Front Range and then pursued various careers (King moved to Alaska to fight forest fires; Lanier, Toms and Pierandozzi stayed closer to home). Visits to the trailer became less frequent but no less cherished. Then Pierandozzi saw a notice that Cecilia -- the woman responsible for fueling a generation of Golden graduates -- was selling her business and retiring from life as a burrito peddler. He knew almost instantly that he wanted to buy the place and begin a new career in food service. After a couple of weeks of discussion, his friends decided that they wanted to be a part of the project, too, and they all approached Cecilia. A few signatures later, Bonfire was theirs.

"Once we bought it, we were all in," says Pierandozzi. "There was never a moment where we said, 'We shouldn't have done this.'" But he also admits that the four went into the project blind: Although there had been a few restaurant jobs -- waiting tables and the like -- none of them had any real experience cooking on a large scale or running a food business, even if it was just a simple trailer. So they started with the basics: learning how to make the green chile, salsas and meats for the burritos. They trained with Cecilia for a week -- her daughter was there to help translate -- and recorded her every move on video to capture the process.

They quickly realized that they wanted to modernize the trailer and give it more appealing branding to draw a larger customer base. That was all a learning experience, too: Working with graphic designers and remodeling the kitchen inside the tiny trailer took a little more time than they'd anticipated.

But after a couple of months, the reborn Bonfire Burritos was ready for business. They wanted to open with a splash, Lanier remembers, so they spent hours on a social-media campaign reaching out to everyone they knew to invite them to come to the opening. And come they did, but there was one big problem: On opening morning, the stoves wouldn't fire. The owners had been up all night prepping, but no one had thought to give the equipment a test run. Rather than send everyone home disappointed, they sent a friend for some Sterno and cooked for 300 people that day.

"That was the hardest part," says Pierandozzi, "the initial shock of cooking for this many people." Even with the recipes, the videos and the practice, "it took a little bit of trial and error."

"It was definitely sink or swim," adds King, who still works summers in Alaska but returns to Golden in the winter to help with the business. "Now we're learning ways to be more efficient." At a little over six feet tall, he can't stand up straight inside the trailer, but on cold days he still prefers working inside, where it's cozy and comfortable. Lacking air-conditioning, Bonfire can get stuffy on hot days. "We have a thermometer inside, and I've seen it hit 130," King notes.

Toms and Pierandozzi put in the most hours at Bonfire, splitting up opening duties for breakfast (Bonfire starts cooking at 6:30 a.m. weekdays, a little later on weekends). Toms, the quiet one of the group, has taken on the role of head cook; Pierandozzi handles the advertising and marketing and the day-to-day operational tasks. "I do most of the accounting and back-end compliance work," says Lanier, "but when it comes down to it and you're working inside the trailer, you put on every hat possible, and it doesn't matter the circumstance -- you have to perform."

Keep reading for more with the four Bonfire Burritos guys.

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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