Three Things You Didn’t Know is a reoccurring series where we dig up interesting facts about your favorite chef, bartender, sommelier, cheese monger, cicerone, GM, or industry insider.
Lasting thirty years is a feat for any business, but it’s an eternity in the fickle restaurant industry. And that’s why tonight’s party—Beaver’s Birthday Bash—at the West End Tavern in Boulder is so worthy of attention. Sure, there will be cake, half-priced whiskey, a hot wing challenge, and the Broncos game, but festivities aside, the fête celebrates the bar that gave name to the Boulder’s West End neighborhood in 1987. And Dave Query, chef, restaurateur, and the founder of Big Red F Restaurant Group, has been on the scene nearly from the tavern’s beginning. Steve “Beaver” Goren and Marc “Minnie” Minion opened the West End after Goren brought his love of rooftop bars in India to Boulder. “Beaver was super eclectic, big as a bear, a total Deadhead, and super entrepreneurial,” Query says. “He bought West End building, the Armory building, the Jax [Fish House] building. He was an old-school hustler.” He was also a dear friend and when Goren passed away suddenly in 2001, Query eventually teamed up with Minion to help keep the West End going.
Query, a Kentucky native who moved to Boulder when he was 12, was already steeped in the restaurant business. His first job at Mustard’s Last Stand slinging hotdogs (“I loved giving someone something they loved,” he says) led to kitchen jobs in Boulder, and then flipping burgers and skiing at Eldora Mountain Resort before he headed to Chicago to open an Italian restaurant with his uncle and attend the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated at the top of his class.
It was in Chicago at Shaw’s Crab House and the recently closed Davis Street Fish Market, that Query fell in love oysters and seafood—an obsession that would later spawn Jax Fish House, which he first opened next door to the West End Tavern in 1994. And time at Blue Mesa, Chicago’s first southwestern restaurant, and a work-related research trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, laid the foundation for Zolo Grill, which Query opened on Arapahoe Avenue in 1994. By this time, he had cheffed at Cliff Young’s, then the bastion of fine dining in Denver, and had already opened and sold the beloved 13-table Q’s in the Hotel Boulderado. “I just recently reread a review from May 1992, and it said Q’s was one of the best restaurants in Colorado,” Query says. It was also a place of great creativity: John Platt, Greg Bortz, Bradford Heap, Sean Kelly, and “a whole crew of early bird Denver dudes” spent time in that kitchen. And, interestingly enough, so did Alan King, a comic on the periphery of the Rat Pack. “His daughter lived in Boulder and he would hang out in the kitchen all day long,” Query says. “He would just hang out and help me prep and cook and we were in awe of this crazy famous guy.”
Query’s mark on the Boulder and Denver dining scene cannot be overstated. He has been a mentor and a guiding force to many, including Blackbelly’s Hosea Rosenberg, Comida’s Rayme Rosello, Elway’s Tyler Wiard, and the Regional’s Kevin Grossi. “If I had a question, I asked. I wrote a letter, I stuck out my hand, I picked up the phone. I’ve always expected that you pay that stuff forward,” Query says. “I get asked a lot and some say I spend too much time talking to others, but I will help anyone write a biz plan, negotiate a lease, anything. You’ve got help anyone who asks, if you don’t you’re a dick.”
Even if you’ve never met Query (or “DQ,” as his friends call him), if you frequent Jax Boulder, you’ve likely seen him sitting at his favorite table: No. 31, right next to the front door and along the front window. “It’s got a great view of Pearl Street and it’s kind of my office,” Query says. “I love sitting there and have for 24 years.” Read on for three more things you likely didn’t know about Dave Query:
1. On coming home… [In July 1993, Query left Boulder and moved to Traverse City, Michigan]. We’d been in the house for a month and we were sitting on the porch thinking maybe we made a mistake, thinking if things don’t work out we’ll go back [to Boulder] in December. But in December there would be five feet of snow on the ground. I walked around the side of the house where the Coldwell Banker sign was still sitting and I took it and planted it in the ground. We were having a housewarming that night and someone said, hey you could probably take down the sign. I said that’s the new sign, we’re moving, and this is our going away party. We sold the house weeks later, we were gone 91 days. We went back to Boulder and opened Zolo. Sometimes you’ve got to live your mistakes. I never want to live anywhere else in my life.
2. On what Big Red F means… We started Jax in Boulder in November 1994, and I was hustling to find stuff to put on the walls. That was before anyone had written anything on the walls. Ben Franklin Five & Dime had just closed, and I bought the “F” for Franklin and put it on the wall. “F” stood for Fun, Family, Fish, and the big red Fs I got in high school. It didn’t mean anything. Once we had four or five restaurants, we figured we should name ourselves. Someone said how about Big Red F? It was that or Party Pants.
3. On reading and writing… I usually read two or three books at a time but I’ve been out of the mode. As the electronic world has come into my life, it’s so easy to get stuff off the internet. But it’s the act of reading a book that makes us smarter rather than just overloading the hard-drive. I’ve got a book—I’ve been working on one and will finish it in the next five years. It’s half business and half the crazy life of a crazy chef—a mingle between the two. I’ve pulled it from a lifetime of time in the kitchen, time with a crazy family, crazy everything. I might have to do it under a pen name.