While much of the newly named Union Station North neighborhood is still a warren of road construction and building projects, a number of new restaurants have been slated for ground-floor retail spaces that will soon be completed. One of those is located at 16th and Wewatta streets, where Frasca Food and Wine founders Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson are aiming to open Tavernetta in March 2017. The newest member of the Frasca family will focus on regional Italian cuisine, with service and ambience that falls somewhere between the duo's upscale Boulder original and their more casual Pizzeria Locale next door. But as at those two, hospitality will be a critical piece of Tavernetta, so Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson have hired Thomas Keller Group alum Justin Williams to head the front of the house.
Williams recently moved to Colorado from California, where he managed Keller's Bouchon in Beverly Hills; before that, he worked at the French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc in Yountville. He met Frasca's owners through the French Laundry, where Stuckey was wine director and Mackinnon-Patterson was a chef. The importance of a well-trained, welcoming staff is legendary at Keller's restaurants, and it's something Williams hopes to emphasize at Tavernetta, knowing that hospitality is also integral to the Frasca team's success.
As the sexy side of the restaurant business, chefs and their menus get the bulk of the attention — while the front of the house is rarely talked about...unless there's a problem. But for Williams, how guests are treated is as important as what they eat. "Really genuine hospitality is so important," he explains. "Treating everyone like they're coming into your own home — and really caring from the moment they walk into the restaurant to the moment they leave."
Because Tavernetta will be open for lunch and dinner in a space directly across from a light-rail platform, there will be a wide variety of customer experiences, from a business lunch to a quick happy-hour cocktail to a full-blown family dinner. "You have to pay attention to why they're here," Williams points out, noting that the staff can't treat everyone as if they're stopping in for the same reason.
Getting the right team together is a combination of hiring the right people and building a culture that nurtures hospitality, he explains. If someone is willing to learn, they can be taught the best methods. "There's definitely a culture that we will build," he notes. "And we want people who want to take care of people."
While Tavernetta won't be quite as "buttoned-up" as Frasca, Williams will be there to ensure that each guest gets treated with respect and warmth. "You don't have to go to a fine-dining restaurant to get polished service," he adds. "True hospitality, you just can't fake. You show up to not put yourself first."
Knowing what we already know about the award-winning food and wine at Frasca, there's no doubt that eating and drinking at Tavernetta will be a premier experience. But with Williams overseeing the front of the house, top-notch hospitality will also be on the menu.
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.