Cafe Society

Memories, Family and Garlic: The Saucy Noodle Looks Back at Fifty Years

At the Saucy Noodle, the tablecloths are still checkered, the spaghetti and meatballs are still drenched in garlic-studded red sauce, and the same slogan is still emblazoned on the awning: "If you don't like garlic, go home." It was Sam Badis' motto when he opened the restaurant in Bonnie Brae back in 1964, and it continues under his granddaughter Erin Markham's ownership. "Our pasta, our pizza, things that were there in 1964 are still there, still true to the same recipes," Markham says. "So much has changed, yet there is so much that has stayed the same." The Noodle will be hosting a 50th anniversary celebration tomorrow, starting at 4:30 p.m. See also: Nighthawks at the New Terminal Bar Should Remember to Toast the Old

Markham says the restaurant goes through more than 1,800 pounds of garlic every year -- no surprise when you take a look at the Saucy Noodle's marinara. Grandma Inez Badis' signature recipe is the glue -- or rather, the gravy -- holding the Noodle together. "It does have so much garlic in it that people confuse it for meat. It is just loaded with garlic," Markham says. "There's even this history that people have gone into labor after eating our marinara."

Markham got into her grandfather's business at an early age. "I grew up in the restaurant, my grandparents raised me. I fell in love with the restaurant from the time I was six years old," she says. Sam Badis would play the piano while Erin sang, or stand next to her as she pretended to be a waitress and take orders. When she returned from college in 1993, Badis asked his granddaughter to help take over the family business. "'There's only one person who can help me, and that's you,'" she remembers him saying.

Sam Badis died in 1996; in 2000 a four-alarm fire destroyed everything but the pizza oven. But Markham was determined to carry on her grandfather's legacy. "There's a newsreel of me somewhere saying the day that it happened, 'There's absolutely no question that we will rebuild and come out of this.' I felt that way at that moment and I was more than grateful the day we opened up again," she says.

More than 14 years after it was rebuilt, the Saucy Noodle will be toasting its anniversary on Saturday by rolling back prices -- plates of spaghetti and meatballs for $4.95 and large pizzas for $3.95 -- handing out gifts, and offering something not seen since Sam Badis' heyday: barbecue. A smoker next to the pizza oven used to turn out brisket and chicken; Markham will bring back that tradition for the celebration. ("He was a big fan, and always complained that Denver never had good barbecue," Markham adds.)

Fifty years later, the Noodle is still a family operation, and that's just how Markham likes it. "Not everybody gets to do what they love, and I get to do what I love in honor of my grandfather, who was the greatest man," she says.

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Chris Utterback
Contact: Chris Utterback