Liz Borris

A Southerner at heart, Liz Borris is happiest when she’s uniting people around food, drink and entertainment.

“It’s pretty simple, but that’s what it’s all about, right?” said Borris, events and group sales manager at Oskar Blues Grill & Brew on North Tejon Street.

Born in Georgia and raised in Tennessee, Borris played three years of collegiate soccer at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. After an injury sidelined her athletic career, she worked briefly in medical records and patient care before realizing she needed a change. Borris decided to move to Colorado Springs and transfer to UCCS, where she finished her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“My boyfriend is originally from [the Springs], so every time I visited it was just somewhere that I felt like, ‘At some point I want to live here,’ and I’ve been fortunate enough that it’s just worked out,” Borris said. “I’m a big skier, fisher — anything outdoors — so I’m just fine.”

Borris has been with Oskar Blues since the Longmont-based eatery made its Colorado Springs debut in late 2017, working her way up from server to her current management position. She is an active volunteer with the local chapter of  the national nonprofit Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which advocates for the preservation and conservation of public lands.

Borris talked with the Business Journal about Downtown’s evolving restaurant scene, Oskar Blues’ collaboration with local nonprofits, and why she didn’t leave her trademark Southern hospitality in Tennessee.

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How did you get into the restaurant business?

It was something I’d always done on the side and hustled through college — it helped make ends meet. I bartended a really long time and worked for some fine dining restaurants. When I came out here, I kind of struggled to find a job at first, but it was something I knew I could always lean on again.

So I worked for Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group for a brief period of time, and then Rock Bottom Brewery. When I found out that they were opening this establishment downtown, I kind of freaked out because I’ve always loved Oskar Blues. I was hired immediately and I’ve been here ever since. … I didn’t know how that was going to play out at first but like I said, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for some great people, and here I am.

What are your responsibilities?

We wash the floor, I close or open … and then I handle the group sales and events. So in addition to any reservations, we do buyouts, I put together banquets, catering — you name it, we’ve done it all. … The whole Southern hospitality thing has always been how I grew up, so it just kind of goes hand in hand. The parties are something I really enjoy doing because you get to see that start to finish, and there’s good food, good beer and good music, so those are all right up my alley.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I really work with a great group of people here and I know, especially in the restaurant industry, it makes a big difference when you work with people who genuinely care. …

We really have a close-knit team and that is probably the most rewarding — getting to show up and every day is a little bit different. And like I said, I think of myself as someone who gets to cultivate relationships by way of food and beer, so it’s fun to see that come to fruition and just seeing people have a good time.

What do you think sets Oskar Blues apart from other restaurants in the Springs?

Honestly, I think it’s the community we’ve built. Like I said, it makes a big difference when people genuinely care, and that starts with the food and the service, so I take pride in that. I like to think that’s what sets us apart, and the fact that we’re also very involved in the community. We want to cultivate those relationships and partnerships. We like to work with a lot of nonprofits here locally, so it’s kind of nice because I get to see the best of both worlds — bringing those people in and supporting a good cause.

We actually do a lot within our own nonprofit, Can’d Aid, that helps build instruments, bikes, all kinds of stuff for children in underprivileged areas, so it’s awesome that we’re a part of that. It’s just a lot of people that have like-minded interests — the outdoors, good beer and good music.

Have you seen the local restaurant scene evolve during your time in the Springs?

I think so, definitely — especially downtown, because when I first moved here, the downtown area was somewhere I avoided. It didn’t seem like somewhere I really wanted to hang out. In the past five years, I’ve seen a lot more mom-and-pop shops thriving. So small business-wise, I’ve seen a big shift in a good way. … I think it’s keeping up with a lot of trends, especially foodies — you know, Instagrammable pics and stuff of that nature.

What do you hope for the downtown scene in the future?

I actually was a part of the [Leadership Pikes Peak LeadershipNow!] class this past year, so that opened my eyes a lot in terms of building relationships, especially with downtown vendors and businesses. That’s really important to me, and not something I really saw myself taking part in because I’m kind of — not reclusive, but if I am not working, I tend to gravitate towards the mountains and getting away. That journey sparked a good interest in me [as far as] solidifying better relationships downtown and who we work with, like the government and who we’re bringing in to take care of us. … and seeing Oskar Blues be more involved with a lot of those people,  as well as creating events that cater to good people.

… Ultimately you want to have a strong business that’s making money and that’s profitable, so I think the better our downtown is thriving, that’s more money in our pockets.

What role can Oskar Blues play in that?

I think we’ve thrived up to this point, but in order to stay relevant, we have to have more backing and know that our customers are regulars who I see on a weekly basis anyway. … I kind of think of it as my living room. So come in, hang out and be comfortable and have a beer, and know that you’re coming in and you’re not just a stranger — you’re a familiar face to us.

… I didn’t necessarily get that when I first moved out here, and now I could walk down the street and probably wave [to] at least 10 people that I put together events for, so I think that’s awesome.

Do you have any advice for young professionals in the restaurant industry?

For me, it’s one of those things where it can be emotionally and physically draining, so finding time to take a step back and recharge your batteries, because people will ultimately suck the life out of you if you let them. It’s a balance between being here and not, ‘Give, give, give,’ all the time. That’s kind of my personality — not that that’s a bad thing — but I have to find time for myself to recharge and make sure I’m 100 percent when I’m here.

That, and building relationships — I think that’s what it’s all about.