"Honestly, I never thought I would have more than one place," reflects Troy Guard, a prolific Denver chef-restaurateur, whose restaurant empire, which includes TAG, TAG|Raw Bar, TAG Burger Bar, Los Chingones and Sugarmill, stretches far and wide -- and just keeps growing, with a second TAG|Burger Bar and TAG|Raw Bar on the horizon. But opening TAG, the restaurant that solidified Guard's claim to culinary fame, wasn't easy. "I talked to at least 100 different investors and brokers and looked at many, many spots before I chose the Larimer Square location, and I had no idea what Tag would be in a month from when we opened, let alone five years down the line," says Guard, whose flagship restaurant will mark its fifth anniversary on Thursday, May 15 with a huge bash.
"There were lots and lots of changes and constant tweaking when I first opened TAG, and I just wanted a chef-driven restaurant that I'd personally like to eat at or hang out in -- a restaurant that would draw from the decor, service, cocktails, wine list and food," says Guard. "The amount of work it really does take to open -- and run -- a restaurant," he adds, "still blows my mind, if only because of the number of moving pieces, which no one really ever prepares you for until it's yours and you're knee-deep in all those moving parts."
Despite the obstacles and unpredictability, however, Guard says that he's pleased with the way TAG has evolved since its inception. "There was a point a few years back when I wondered what the fuck was up with people, including some of my staff and the media, but you know what? It all made me a stronger person and a better dad," he says. "I have three amazing investors and partners who believed in me -- and continue to believe in me -- and every person who has worked at TAG, for better or worse, has made an impact on both me and the restaurant," he says. "I believe it's now at a place where the staff has just as much ownership as I do, which is pretty amazing."
Guard, who regularly eats at TAG, says that his favorite dish on the menu is the kampachi with pop rocks, which he still eats once a week. And if he were to describe a dream dinner at TAG, he'd start with the Kobe beef sliders, the taco sushi and the butterfish, and then, he says, "I'd have the kitchen make me an omakase and watch it sitting up at the chefs counter."
And during his fifth anniversary dinner, which starts at 5:30 p.m. and ballyhoos guest chefs Justin Brunson (Old Major); Jamey Fader (Big Red F and Lola); Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja, Euclid Hall, Bistro Vendome and Stoic & Genuine); Kevin Morrison (Tacos-Tequila-Whiskey); Jeff Osaka (twelve); Paul Reilly (Beast + Bottle); Steve Redzikowski (Acorn); Alex Seidel (Fruition); Matt Selby (Central); Goose Sorensen (Solera); and Tyler Wiard (Elway's Cherry Creek), it's a good bet that some of those dishes might will be passed around, along with cocktails from TAG bartender Gerard Collier, Acorn's Bryan Dayton, Allison Widdecombe, bartender at Williams & Graham and Levi Yockey, who's behind the stick at Solera.
"I wish could have invited about 40 more chefs who I think are the shit, but these chefs are the ones that I'm the closest to and who always have my back when the chips get low, and I appreciate them and respect what they do," says Guard.
As for TAG, Guard says that he couldn't have made it a success on his own. "Every year, we've seen continued growth, and for that, I'm thankful for my family, my beautiful wife Nikki, my daughters Grace and Mackenzie, my team and Leigh Sullivan. I hope I've inspired present and past staff to be passionate, work hard and follow your dreams," he concludes.
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Tickets to TAG's fifth anniversary party are $65 each and can be purchased by calling 303-996-9985; twenty percent of the proceeds will benefit the Bulldog of America Rescue Network, a charity that's near and dear to Guard, who has a bulldog...named Tag.