Denver lost one of its top hospitality professionals when Rioja server Neil Maxwell passed away over the weekend after a long illness. Maxwell had been with the Larimer Square restaurant since Beth Gruitch and chef Jennifer Jasinski opened it in 2004. His was a familiar and welcoming face to the Denver dining community, and he was known as one of the best in the business.
Restaurant consultant John Imbergamo, who also helped open Rioja, had this to say about his friend and colleague:
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On November 22, Rioja will mark its eleventh anniversary on Larimer Square, and first anniversary without Neil Maxwell on the serving staff. After stints at Piatti, Denver Buffalo Company and Sambuca, Neil joined the opening team at the soon-to-be-open eatery and was a key member of the floor staff until illness forced him to take time off last year.
In these difficult times for restaurant service, Neil was a true professional with a deep understanding of the techniques and attitude necessary for hospitality. He was genuinely happy to serve you and frequent guest requests for his station confirmed his skills. His fellow staffers will miss his smiling face and forever-friendly demeanor. Our hearts are saddened by his passing.
"Neil truly loved taking care of people and making them happy," says Gruitch. "He was always thinking of others — even in the end, when he was thanking people at the hospital. He was gracious, sweet and quick-witted, and never shied away from taking tough tables. [He] always volunteered to work our charity events.”
Adds Jasinski: "He was so gentle and sweet and loved serving people — making their night special. He was always the most 'requested' server when guests would return to Rioja.”
Maxwell's commitment to his career choice was noted often over the years, with mentions on Eater.com in 2012 and in the Rocky Mountain News, which gave him a Top of the Rocky award for service. "Maxwell puts maximum effort into service at chef Jennifer Jasinski's Mediterranean eatery," the paper wrote. "He has a knack for developing a relationship with customers without being obtrusive...He's the guy with the boyish grin; request him when making a reservation."