Colorado Springs’ diverse demographics and growing population are luring restaurants to open throughout the city.
“We started looking down there to open up an additional location about 2½ years ago because of the demographics and the amount of younger people relocating there,” said Drew Shader, the owner of Denver-based Atomic Provisions. “We just think it’s a great market — a hot and an underserved market — and we love the area.”
Shader’s concept of three separate operations — the Denver Biscuit Company, Fat Sully’s and Atomic Cowboy — operating under one roof is set to open downtown on South Tejon Street next month.
“We don’t feel like you guys get your share of unique authentic concepts down there,” he said. “Colorado Springs has a lot of restaurants, including some great ones, but there are not enough of them.”
Sarah Humbargar, vice president of development services for Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, said the downtown area alone is on track to see several new restaurants open in 2018.
“And we are aware of several others which have not yet announced due to being early in the development process that will likely open in 2019,” she said.
Those downtown restaurants are Frozen Gold Ice Cream, Dos Santos Taqueria and Cask and Cork, which are all part of the Winfield Scott Building on South Tejon.
“There’s also Hafa Adai, which is a Guam-style barbecue restaurant that will be opening soon in the former Seeds Café space off Pikes Peak Avenue,” Humbargar said. “There are several others that are likely to announce over the coming weeks and months.”
More food establishments coming to other areas of the Springs include In-N-Out Burger, Chuy’s, Hop Jack’s, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar and Anthony’s Pizza.
Mark Herman, the CEO of New Mexico-based Dion’s Pizza, said the company is evaluating adding another location on the south end of the Springs.
“We are looking in additional areas of the Denver market as well, but we really love that Colorado Springs is home to so many young families,” he said. “We feel like our key demographic — our families with young children — that Colorado Springs really attracts a lot of them and we wanted to position ourselves near that group.”
The pizza chain expanded into the state about eight years ago with the opening of the 6385 Source Center Point location in northeast Colorado Springs.
“We are definitely happy we opened in Colorado Springs and it led to us opening in Denver, so it was a great starting point for expansion into Colorado,” Herman said. “It is an interesting time because Colorado’s economy is growing so quickly, and at the same time, nationally, the number of restaurants opening over the last five or six years has been at a record pace. It’s a very competitive market but we have been happy with our results at our Colorado Springs store.”
Both Herman and Shader said the real estate market in a city — what’s available and at what cost — can affect a restaurant coming there.
“We are really going for neighborhood-type locations instead of in big commercial centers because we want to locate near the rooftops where our customers live,” Herman said. “Within that, we are trying to find the best sites available. Sometimes you can find them quickly, and sometimes it can take a year or more to find a site.”
Herman said the prices of land and construction are expensive in Colorado, including in Colorado Springs, due to the state’s healthy economy.
“[The costs] are at a high, maybe even at a peak, so we have to be aware of that as well and make sure we know if we are getting a good deal or not,” Herman said.
Meanwhile, for Shader, it’s not just about what real estate is available; the building has to have the right feel too.
“We like old buildings,” he said. “The feel of the space is very important to us. So the fact that there were some old buildings left — not many of them — but a few that were downtown was intriguing and we jumped on them.”
Shader said he wanted the operation to be away from the core of restaurants that already exist on Tejon Street but still in downtown.
“We just thought that South Tejon is an area kind of like these areas in Denver with great bones to them, proximity to downtown, great proximity to neighborhoods and people, but just aren’t developed,” he said. “There are a few other restaurants opening around us now too, so we’ve created a bit of a restaurant pod, which is pretty exciting.”
Downtown has seen a slight slowdown year over year in terms of new businesses opening, mostly due to limited vacancy.
“This particularly impacts restaurants as only certain spaces have the infrastructure needed for a restaurant to be able to move in,” Humbargar said. “The addition of new space in developments like at Casa Mundi [apartments] on South Tejon and the Hilton Garden Inn will add new square footage that is built to accommodate restaurants more easily than some of the older properties.”
She said there are a few spaces coming available that could provide opportunities for both restaurants and retailers considering opening downtown.
“[That] is a natural part of the cycle and ensures there is always something new to find downtown,” Humbargar said. “Having a great culinary scene attracts people to enjoy everything else downtown has to offer, and is a great amenity for shoppers, tourists, residents and those who work downtown.”
Dealing with permits and local officials can be a daunting task when opening a restaurant. Shader said, however, the process has gone “quite smoothly” in the Springs.
“It’s been a great experience working with everyone involved,” he said. “We’ve had no issues so far getting our liquor license and permitting, which has been awesome.”
Herman also applauded how easy it is to work with state and local entities when starting a business in the area.
“The government agencies have been great to work with and are very helpful when it comes to getting businesses to open there, which is a huge plus any time you are trying to grow,” he said.
Atomic Provisions plans to staff the South Tejon location with about 215 employees.
“We’ve hired about 140 of them already,” Shader said. “The labor market is quite a bit different than Denver there. I don’t know if it’s easier to hire people but I think there are less restaurants than we have in Denver, so less competition for us to find good workers.”
Shader said adding a new location in the Springs seems to have been a wise decision.
“The area is stunning; the demographics are amazing,” he said. “The people that we’ve met are just outstanding. It’s such a diverse community, and we just are super excited about the potential of developing that South Tejon area.” n CSBJ