It hasn’t exactly been business as usual for a Longmont brewpub after its feature on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives aired earlier this month. Samples, a from-scratch restaurant that boasts 28 beers on tap with 40 more options in bottles, has been dealing with a Food Network-related surge in business ever since its television debut.
“That first weekend was a bit hectic,” says co-owner Mark Sample, who partnered with his wife Carmen Sample to open Samples in 2015. “But it was great,” Carmen says. “We sold out of our t-shirts last week and actually opened up an online store to help meet the demand.”
According to Carmen, business at the restaurant increased by 200 percent. And marketing director Dave Laughlin says that merchandise sales (t-shirts and glassware) have also gone through the roof—Laughlin estimates sales have increased by 500 percent. But aside from the obvious upticks, there’s also been very real, human reactions to being featured on national television.
Samples employs individuals with physical and mental disabilities and provides them with one-on-one job coaching and real-world experience. That experience, says Mark, can be invaluable; in 2016 only 17.9 percent of disabled persons were employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At Samples, the job coaches double as social workers, and those coaches end up working the same tasks as their mentees.
Two of those mentees are Chris Miller and Brendon Case, both of whom have developmental and intellectual disabilities. Miller has worked at Samples for two years, and he’s currently a host and busboy. Since the episode aired, he’s enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame by signing autographs for customers who recognize him from the episode. Case got some air time, too, and happily recalls challenging Guy Fieri, the show’s host, to an arm-wrestling competition. Case also asked Fieri if he could buy his iconic red convertible from him. Although Fieri declined both requests, the prevailing theory around the shop is that Case would’ve easily won the arm-wrestling match. “The ‘gun show’ is a big deal around here,” says Alexa Cataldo, whose job at Samples is to pair mentees with compatible job coaches.
And while the restaurant’s mission is noble, Mark and Carmen agree that the true focus has to be on the quality of the food. I sampled the cheese curds—as a born-and-raised Midwesterner, I consider myself to be a decent judge of quality curds—and I was not disappointed. True to the style, Samples’ curds are oozing with cheese and served with house-made mustard sauce for some kick. “This wouldn’t work if we couldn’t make it profitable, so everything has to be as good as we can make it,” Mark says. “We make our food from scratch, and our employees take pride in what they do here. When you take pride in what you do, that’s what helps give your life meaning.”
If you missed the original episode, you can still catch the episode featuring Samples, “Poutine, Pizza, and Pork,” on the Food Network’s YouTube channel. You’ll have to pay $1.99 to access it, though.
370 Main St, Longmont, 303-327-9318