“Restaurants have a life span, and in this case, it was 26 years. That’s a long-ass life.”
That from Dave Query, founder of Big Red F Restaurant Group, on next week’s closing of Big Red F’s first restaurant in Colorado, Boulder’s 26-year-old Zolo Grill. When he opened Zolo in 1994, he wanted to bring the Southwestern style of food that he fell in love with while cooking at Chicago’s Blue Mesa restaurant to Boulder.
“Zolo felt like the most regional thing going on here at the time,” Query says. “It was great—we had a really fun space and great relationships with a lot of the farmers. It was really appealing to have something so local.”
Wednesday, November 25 will be Zolo’s last day of service. Query is, of course, sad about closing the restaurant he describes as the first in the evolution of the Big Red F Group (which has grown to include the West End Tavern, the Post Brewing Co., Centro Mexican Kitchen, Lola Coastal Mexican, and Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar), but he’s excited about the innovations the group has been working on over the past eight months.
To keep the rest of the Big Red F family going strong, Query is trying a few different things. First, the group is ramping up in-house delivery, which allows it to avoid the high commissions charged by third-party delivery apps like DoorDash and Postmates. Big Red F’s delivery program, WeDeliver, has been so successful that some of its restaurants are getting more sales via WeDeliver than DoorDash, an impressive feat in our current climate of delivery app addiction.
The group is also hosting weekly Post Sunday Suppers at Jax Colorado Springs and Fort Collins and jumping into the ghost kitchen game with two new takeout- and delivery-only concepts: Lola’s kitchen now doubles as the Tender Project, selling chicken tenders and fries, while Boulder’s West End Tavern operates the Cheesesteak Project, which offers three different foot-long sandwiches.
“We’re doing a lot of different brands out the back door, ghost-kitchen style,” Query says. “Everyone needs to figure out how to drive top-line revenue. If you’ve got one restaurant, you’ve got the opportunity to have three brands coming out of the kitchen.”
Query also just took over a commissary kitchen in Five Points and bought Steuben’s former food truck. He says they’re working on creating a very diverse, 100 percent delivery menu out of the commissary kitchen, doubling down on the ghost kitchen idea, and taking advantage of our delivery-obsessed culture. As for the food truck, he says Big Red F will take a different approach from the “park and wait for people to come” model, but he’s not yet revealing details outside of “we’re gonna do a whole bunch of crazy stuff.”
As for what diners can do to help prevent more closures of their favorite restaurants, Query says to keep on what we’ve all been doing: Order takeout and delivery (preferably from the restaurant itself); buy gift cards; and be compassionate when things go wrong, as these are trying times for everyone.