It’s brutally sunny and at least 90 degrees outside as I stand sweating in a field in Longmont, staring at a 10-foot-tall pile of cow manure. I’d been invited by American Grind’s co-owners, Jared Schwartz and Kade Gianinetti, to see their ingredient sourcing in action by visiting Buckner Family Farm; rancher Clint Buckner gave us a tour.
Buckner needs all that natural fertilizer to keep his fields healthy and productive, providing grass and alfalfa for his 800 Shorthorn cattle to live on in the warmer months—the herd is entirely grass-fed and grass-finished—and plenty of hay to get them through the winter. Buckner Family Farm is also home to 350 Columbia and Suffolk ewes, eight sows, one boar, and multiple chickens, each a part of the 1,400-acre pasture-based agricultural ecosystem that’s “as natural as life itself,” according to Buckner.
Ranching and farming are in Buckner’s blood, born of his family’s history in the business that stretches back to the settling of the American colonies. He comes from generation after generation of sheep ranchers, and even though Buckner earned a finance degree at CU Boulder, he returned to the land in 2011 with plans to raise sheep and sell cheese and wool. “We didn’t plan on selling meat,” Buckner says, “but then [the team at] Frasca [Food and Wine] tasted our lamb and loved it so much that they convinced us to sell it.”
Before he knew it, Buckner had purchased a Shorthorn cattle herd, and later, heritage Berkshire pigs. “We wanted to grow and eat our own food as much as possible,” he says. Lucky for Front Rangers that he and wife MaryKay did, because today, Buckner Family Farm products grace metro Denver’s and Boulder’s best butcher shops and restaurants.
Which brings us back to American Grind: The diner-style burger-and-fries brand was born in 2014 as a food truck, which evolved into a stall at Avanti Food and Beverage in RiNo in 2017. But partners Schwartz, Gianinetti, and Chad Michael George (also of The Way Back) have had bigger plans for the brand since day one. “Ever since working together at Linger [Eatuary],” Schwartz explains, “I’ve been talking about this burger joint called Swensons Drive-In that I loved back in Ohio. I wanted to do something like that but do it the right way, with the right ingredients.” When Gianinetti left Linger in 2014, he told Schwartz that they were going to realize that dream together.
Now, American Grind has a brick-and-mortar home in Washington Park West on the busy culinary corner at Pennsylvania Street and E. Bayaud Avenue. The space is big and bright, with a counter-service set-up along one wall, a bar along another, and plenty of four-top and community-style tables arranged throughout the room. Thoughtful touches elevate the casual environs: Tiny potted succulents decorate the tables and planters hang from the cafe-light-festooned ceiling; big-screen televisions are set to sports games and animal programs; there are separate waste bins for trash, recycling, and composting; a vintage BurgerTime arcade game (which, similar to Donkey Kong, features tiny chefs assembling burgers amid attacks from evil hot dogs and, strangely, fried eggs) is free for all to play.
The food at American Grind 3.0 is the same diner-style fare Denverites adored at Avanti, made from scratch using local ingredients. “We are a small restaurant supporting small producers,” says Gianinetti, referencing the Buckner Family Farm burgers—a mix of 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat ground beef that Buckner grinds for the restaurant—and stellar patty melt, one of the new menu items made possible by the location’s larger kitchen and production capabilities.
There’s also a new chicken sandwich based on Buckner’s poultry, green and grain salads, and sides including fried mushrooms and lemony fried green beans. The challah rolls and rye bread come from Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen; tomatoes (only served in season) come from Rocky Mountain Fresh; lettuce is supplied by Altius Farms in RiNo. The outrageous milkshakes—available in traditional iterations like chocolate and vanilla, but also kid-approved marshmallow and cupcake flavors—are built using Boulder-based Ice Cream Alchemy products.
And despite the fact that American Grind’s ingredients are grown responsibly and locally, prices are surprisingly low. A “hamburg” with LTO and house-made condiments (pickles, mustard, and ketchup) is just $8.50; a cheeseburger costs $1 more. For $3, you can add on a green side salad or a mountain of thick, skin-on french fries, the latter being some of the best in Denver.
But I say go for that outrageous patty melt, topped with caramelized onions, Swiss, and “C&D sauce,” a roasted-garlic-Thousand-Island concoction that would be delicious spread onto a piece of paper, much less a juicy, grass-fed-and-finished burger patty produced with care less than 50 miles away. Trust me—I’ve been there.
81 S. Pennsylvania St., 719-368-3847