From the start, Rippeto was committed to buying meats and produce from Colorado farmers and ranchers and designing menus around them. The menus shifted depending on what was available — Rippeto made trips to the Boulder County Farmers' Market twice a week to stock up — and dishes evolved throughout the year as weather changes both gradual and sudden affected what farmers could grow.
Meanwhile, Rippeto continued to walk the talk. "It was the same then as it is today," the chef explains. "It was a way to honor the farmer and what's grown here — on a scale that could support their businesses and their families. My goal was to bring it to the public and to inspire my staff to look at food differently."
Through the decades, Rippeto's goals and methods have remained constant. "I see about the same variety," she says of the products she buys. "We rely on about ten to fifteen farmers; they know what grows well here. It requires a lot of flexibility because of the weather — hailstorms are a bigger problem now."
One thing that's changed is that farmers are now more willing to drive into Denver, and not just at the height of the summer growing season. "When we began, no farmers would come to Denver with food. Now, as long as they have food, they come down — even in February," Rippeto notes.
And Potager will take what they have. "We close the patio at the end of September, and it becomes storage for winter crops," Rippeto says, explaining that wooden pallets are stacked and filled with root vegetables and covered with heavy blankets so that the kitchen can continue to come up with fresh dishes even in the dead of winter.
Running a restaurant this way isn't easy or particularly profitable. "It's expensive to do business this way," Rippeto admits. "I never haggle over the price. I pay whatever they ask because it's worth it. But keeping food cost at 25 percent is impossible. Nobody's going to pay that much for their food."
But 22 years is a long time to carry a banner, and Rippeto is ready to pursue other interests. She's an abstract artist who works with acrylic paints, and she's putting some of her works in upcoming shows at the Art Students League of Denver. She also plans to travel more with her husband, now that she knows Potager is in good hands with the Warthens, who officially take over on April 29.
"They're hard workers," she says of Paul, the chef, and Eileen, the beverage manager. "I've spent the last year and a half trying to back out of the kitchen so that the staff listens to them and not to me."
For Rippeto, it's time to step out of the kitchen and into the studio. And for Paul and Eileen Warthen, it's time to pick up the drum and bang it loudly at Potager.