Brother Luck (yes, his real name), is the proprietor and executive chef of the relatively new Brother Luck Street Eats located on West Colorado Avenue. Luck oversees all restaurant operations, including the sourcing and preparation of seasonal, farm-to-table fare, much of it from local distributors. He hadn’t always been the boss, however, as he recalls his first restaurant job, washing dishes at 14 years old.
“I got a steak sandwich every night,” Luck said of the perks 17 years ago. “But I never thought about [restaurants] as a career until I was in [a culinary program at the Art Institute of Phoenix]. When I was around 17, I really thought about it.”
Luck was born in San Francisco and grew up in Oakland’s inner city. Admittedly a “troubled teen,” he said kitchens immediately appealed to him.
“Kitchens are hard but they’re fun. They’re entertaining, especially for a teenager,” he said. “There’s fire and smoke and blowtorches and knives — and lots of swearing and profanity. It’s where I wanted to be. It was easy to fit in. … It’s one of the few industries where it doesn’t matter your background, it doesn’t matter your education level. It’s about your work ethic and your attitude. You can go really far or you can go nowhere. It’s all about how you carry yourself.”
Meals on wheels
Luck said he essentially earned his degree from the Art Institute of Phoenix at no charge. He paid for his tuition with winnings he’d earned as a competitive chef while attending the institute. Following graduation, he was newly married and still a teenager when he moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to his wife’s family.
“I joke about my reason for being a chef,” Luck said. “I can move anywhere in the world and will always find a job, I’ll always have a job because my industry will never fade, and I’ll never go hungry.”
Moving to Colorado Springs for the first time more than a decade ago provided an opportunity to test that theory.
“It meant selling everything, loading a truck and moving out here,” he said. “I knew someone at The Broadmoor. That was it. I was offered a job there and at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.”
Luck took the position of executive sous chef at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
“The Broadmoor is a five-diamond resort,” he said. “I couldn’t make anything better. It was at the top of its game and still is. I saw Cheyenne Mountain Resort as an opportunity.”
At 23, Luck said he had one rule: “I couldn’t tell anyone my age. It’s tough to tell a 50-year-old man he is doing something wrong and then show him how to do it right and keep him motivated to do a good job.”
Luck said he put professionalism above all else and, two years into his tenure, it didn’t matter how old he was.
“It shouldn’t be about age. … It’s about if you can count on me to get the job done,” he said.
After three years in Colorado Springs, Luck took a position preparing for the opening of World of Whirlpool in downtown Chicago.
The center is an “international brand and product experience center for the Whirlpool Corporation,” according to its website. “Our nearly 30,000-square-foot facility features 12 exquisite demonstration kitchens, interactive laundry showrooms, unique meeting spaces and incredible rooftop entertaining areas overlooking the Chicago River. The facility is accessible by invitation-only for architects, influencers, retailers and designers.”
Luck would be food and beverage director and chef for the facility. His job: wow potential clients.
“The general manager and I were the first two there,” he said. “We built it out and brought on the team. It was amazing. I told them I didn’t want to treat it like a traditional conference center. I didn’t want buffets with chafers.”
Luck said World of Whirlpool provided him with the freedom to develop operations from the ground up.
“The budgets were awesome because there really were no budgets,” he said. “I could spend as much as I wanted on food to help close a million-dollar deal. And I had the opportunity to get experience in construction, operations, I was part of acquiring licenses and dealing with local politics. I was involved in hiring staff and writing manuals and training, purchasing equipment, dealing with elevators.”
Luck did well in Chicago and was promoted to executive chef within the same company and relocated to San Antonio to work for a hotel.
It was in Texas, though, that he found himself part of a corporate structure that restricted the freedom he came to enjoy in Chicago.
“I was more focused on doing what I wanted instead of what I was told,” he said. “I wanted to find a small restaurant where I could develop and the whole time I was writing business plans. Looking back, they seem so far-fetched. They don’t even make sense now.”
Luck found an opportunity to return, with his wife, to Colorado Springs. He took a position as executive chef of the now-closed Craftwood Inn in Manitou Springs.
“It was family-owned and independent and I could learn on a smaller scale how to manage operations,” he said.
While running the kitchen at the Inn, Luck decided in 2013 that he would tentatively venture out on his own, while he still had the security of a steady paycheck. That’s when he found an underutilized commercial kitchen in the back of the Triple Nickel Tavern on Wahsatch Avenue.
“I wanted to start a business with the least amount of money possible so I could start earning it back,” he said. “I started doing underground dinner parties and catering.”
The first event Luck did on his own was a Willy Wonka-themed dinner party.
“We made edible menus out of chocolate and potato paper. People were licking wallpaper that tasted like ‘snozberries.’ We had chocolate river martinis and fizzy lifting juice made with gin and lemons and we sold golden tickets.”
But cultivating his own business and working at the Craftwood Inn became too much.
“My wife told me to pick one; to just go for it,” he said.
He gave up his steady paycheck and in September 2013, moved into the Triple Nickel full-time.
“Everyone thought I was crazy because it’s a punk rock bar,” he said. “But it was also raw and urban. It was right up my alley and I really enjoyed that vibe.”
Cutting the cord
Luck’s decision to quit his executive position at the Craftwood Inn was not an easy one.
“I’d always had a salaried position and worked for a major company,” he said. “That last day, I packed my books and my knives and cleaned out my desk. … I jumped off the cliff. … I remember how evident the fear was on my face. My wife said, ‘You’re good. Whatever happens, I support it and we’ll be all right.’ ”
He turned the Triple Nickel kitchen into his own, word spread, dinner parties sold out and each night people were coming less for the punk rock and more for the food.
“Local food professionals got into it and it turned into a space where we’d hang out. It was an open kitchen and I was alone in the back. I’d keep crazy ingredients on hand just for them.”
Luck said it was while working at the Triple Nickel that he realized Colorado Springs was hungry for something new.
“This isn’t just a meat and potatoes town. There were lots of things out there we could be doing,” he said. But the tavern wasn’t meant to be a full-service restaurant and the space wouldn’t meet demand.
“It was grinding day in and day out to make it happen,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of profit, but it was freedom. Entrepreneurship is the most stressful freedom in the world.”
Luck, though, wanted to be totally free, and that meant finding a place of his own.
Luck said he courted investors prior to opening Brother Luck Street Eats in the summer of 2014, but eventually procured a loan on his own that, along with some savings, allowed him to take his latest leap of faith. His years in corporate hospitality and family-owned restaurants provided the education necessary to venture out on his own.
“It was like going to business school,” he said.
Last June, Street Eats joined a blossoming restaurant scene outside of Old Colorado City, and Luck said he is still surprised by his following.
“It’s cool to see the support we get from the community,” he said. “Being small business owners, we had to commit everything. People keep showing up and I keep cooking food and people like it.”
He said he initially expected the majority of his patrons to be young professionals, but his fans range from country club members to punk rockers, all of whom have followed him. He said good food is “the greatest common denominator.
“Everything is about the dining experience,” he said of his philosophy. “It’s about the food first and foremost. A lot of restaurants in the country have gotten away from that. Restaurants are very restaurateur-driven with a chef as an employee. Kitchens are meant to be run by chefs. Restaurants are meant to be run by chefs.”
Luck said, as a troubled youth, the 16-year-old starting culinary school in Phoenix not that long ago would be blown away by the young man he’s become.
“To be where I’m at today — I appreciate the smaller things in life,” he said. “I’m stoked to have people interested in what we’re doing. It’s humbling. I’m just glad I can show up every day and make it happen.”