Racines is temporarily closed, like so many local restaurants during this, the COVID-19 era. But its shuttering is especially bittersweet for owners Lee Goodfriend and David Racine, their staff, and their loyal customers. That’s because 2020 was supposed to be the eatery’s swan song.
In early April, Goodfriend and Racine announced that, after 36 years, Racines will close its doors on January 15, 2021. The decision, which had been made prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, shocked and saddened longtime regulars—some of whom dine at the restaurant multiple times each week. “It was time,” Goodfriend says. “I’m 70 years old. And expenses have gone up so much that Racines isn’t that profitable anymore.” Those expenses include increases in property taxes and the city’s mandated minimum wage hike that took effect on January 1.
The restaurant has always been a political gathering place for Denver, and many say that it’s at Racines’ tables that business and deals get done. “Somedays it’s like history in there,” says Lynn Bartels, a former reporter for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post who also worked in the Secretary of State office under Wayne Williams. “Racines is not a place to go for a conversation that’s ‘just between us.’”
Tim Jackson, CEO and president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, says the restaurant’s networking aspect cannot be overstated. “You can go for one meeting and have five to eight meetings while you’re there,” he says. “You look across the place and that guy’s with the Chamber, over there is a senator, and there’s the Mayor.” Jackson often schedules back-to-back meetings, say a 7 a.m. breakfast and then an 8:30 a.m. second breakfast—he just makes sure to eat lightly and change tables. He also has the distinct honor of being Racines’ first customer when the restaurant moved from 850 Bannock Street to 650 Sherman Street in 2004. Jackson is already planning to be Racine’s last customer. “I’ll be the bookends,” he says.
In addition to serving as an official meeting place, Racines has created a community in itself. “It’s not just about going and eating—you can do that anywhere,” says Erik Cook, of Cook & Associates, who has eaten lunch at the restaurant nearly every day over the past decade. “The staff has become friends—we trade vacation pictures, I get to hear about their kids, and get daily updates. I’m going to miss that.”
Patricia Barela Rivera, the former Denver head of the Small Business Administration and forever an entrepreneur, loves the diversity of people that frequent Racines. “All the way from the government people to just those in the community. It draws every color, every type,” she says. “When it closes, I feel like part of my family will be gone.”
What they’ll miss ordering:
Frequency: Dined twice a week
Standing order: Bacon burrito; wings for happy hour; and iced tea
“I ate there enough that if I was walking to my table and stopped to talk to people, by the time I’d make it to my table there was a glass of iced tea waiting.”
Frequency: Lunch almost every day for 10 years
Standing order: Steak burrito
“I’ve learned that I cannot make a good steak burrito. I’ve tried.”
Frequency: Sometimes, a couple times a day
Standing order: Green chile omelet or a large bowl of strawberry yogurt, three eggs over medium, and sourdough toast with strawberry jelly
“There were several servers who knew my order so well they would finish [the sentence] for me.”
Patricia Barela Rivera
Frequency: A few times a week
Standing order: The Soledad cod, hamburger with sweet potato fries, or enchiladas
“I think they have the best enchiladas in the city. Being from New Mexico, I know what good chile tastes like.”