The sign out front reads “Front Range Barbeque & Home Style Meals” for brevity’s sake.
If proprietor Brian Fortinberry tried to advertise everything his establishment offered by the roadside, he’d need a bigger sign. That’s because, while barbeque might be the glue that holds everything together, the Westside eatery has developed a reputation for much more, including its affinity for original live music and a successful catering arm, as well as taking craft beers very seriously.
When asked, for instance, if he carried Coors Light on tap, Fortinberry paused, a quizzical look on his face.
“Was that a joke?”
While bottled beer brewed by a mega-corporation is available at the eatery, Fortinberry said it’s the non-corporate feel of Front Range Barbeque that provides its character and keeps many of his regulars coming back.
“When you walk in, whether intentional or not, it’s like going to someone’s house and hanging out. We never meant it to feel like a starchy restaurant. We’re more casual and we want you to come hang out and have a good time,” Fortinberry said.
The location at 2330 W. Colorado Ave. might feel like someone’s house, because at one point it was. The location has also been a Japanese restaurant and a hot dog joint.
In its current iteration, the establishment offers Southern-style barbeque, which is a dry rub, Fortinberry explained, adding the kitchen also makes three unique sauces from scratch. Many of the meats are smoked “low and slow” for between 18 to 24 hours over hickory, pecan or apple woods — sometimes all three.
“I don’t think people realize how much goes into some of these dishes,” Fortinberry said. “If you’re getting a burger somewhere, it’s cooked and done. But if you want a brisket sandwich, about 20 hours went into that sandwich. A lot of effort goes into each and every plate.”
But it’s not just about the barbeque.
“It’s in the name and it’s usually what people think of when they think of us,” he said. “But we also put lot of love into a really good burger. We have Cajun specials and catfish.”
New York strip steaks and teriyaki were once found on the pages of the original menu, which changes periodically. Today, ribs are the most popular.
“But you can order anything on the menu and know it was painstakingly gone over to make it the best,” he said.
He explained that his entire concept is a constant work in progress.
“When I moved out here, I had brisket for the first time,” Fortinberry said. “People were all about the brisket. It’s taken years to find the best techniques to cook our brisket. We’ve tried 100 different ways. I think now we’ve got it pretty much perfected.”
‘No one does that’
Fortinberry was born in Louisiana and moved to Birmingham, Ala., as a teenager. He attended Auburn University and earned a degree in building science. Fortinberry said he knew he wanted to move out of the South and, in 1997, was traveling through Colorado on his way to northern California to explore some job opportunities.
“I stopped in Colorado to visit some friends. One week turned into two,” he said. “Two weeks turned into a month. Then I ran out of money and I kinda liked this place. I decided to stay, and I got a job in construction.”
Fortinberry had been camping in Woodland Park and showering at local RV parks before going to interviews.
“After the interview, I’d take my suit off, put on my sandals and go back to my camp,” he said. He used his college degree for three years, but wanted to own his own business. Brian and his brother Steve, who had nearly two decades of restaurant experience, invested “a shoestring budget” in 2000 into purchasing, equipping and remodeling their newest venture. About five years later, Brian bought his brother’s share.
Fortinberry said, in the beginning, there was little in the way of a plan.
“We decided to open a restaurant but didn’t know what we were going to do,” he said. “We were brothers who wanted to work together and create something. We’re both from the South and, in 2000, there were only a couple barbeque places in town. I thought a Southern-style place was needed.”
Fortinberry said they did several things in the beginning that seemed strange at the time, but are pretty common today.
“We started with two beers on tap and a keg cooler built into the bar,” he said. “We rotated those beers and, in the early 2000s, people were like, ‘Whoa. Why can’t I get the beer I had yesterday?’ Till 2005 or , customers couldn’t figure out why we kept changing our beer. No one does that.”
Taps expanded from two to four in 2003 and, about five years ago, a friend helped convert Fortinberry’s system into the 10 taps he has today. He said the majority of those beers tend to be from Colorado, including Colorado Springs.
“It’s not because I’m trying to just do Colorado,” he said. “I just want the best possible all the time. I want to support local breweries, then Colorado breweries. But I won’t turn away an English or Belgian or German [beer]. Anywhere in the world, if it’s good beer; I want it.”
Fortinberry said he looks for the same quality in his musical acts, which play Wednesdays and many weekends. Popular genres include blues, bluegrass and zydeco.
“It has to be original music, and we get a lot of touring bands,” he said. “The categories are so mixed anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to say that this is bluegrass. It’s bluegrass that ran into country that ran into Americana that ran into rap. It’s crazy what you hear these days.”
Fortinberry has seen success during the past 15 years, adding everything he’s done right in business has been inspired by his life philosophy.
“I’m on earth to enjoy myself,” he said. “I work my ass off and put in a lot of hours. I wouldn’t do that for the money. I truly enjoy what I do.”
And based on the crowds that gather for original music, craft beer and home-cooked food, the public seems to enjoy it too.
Front Range Barbecue & Home Style Meals
Location: 2330 W. Colorado Ave.
Contact: 632-2596, frontrangebarbeque.com