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A new page in Potager’s 23-year history is being written: Longtime chef-owner Teri Rippeto is passing the baton to the current chef of the restaurant, Paul Warthen, and his business partner and wife Eileen, Potager’s beverage manager. The duo has led the Capitol Hill restaurant for the last two years, and will be co-owners with Nick Brand, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, who has spent time with the Kitchen group.
Rippeto and her father, Tom, opened Potager in Capitol Hill at a time when the farm-to-table movement was new to Colorado. Strictly seasonal menus and a firm commitment to sourcing ingredients from local farms and ranches were Potager signatures, setting a high standard for the restaurant and New American cuisine in Denver.
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Over the years, Potager earned many accolades, including multiple spots on 5280’s 25 Best Restaurants list. In 2014, the restaurant was also recognized for its timeless design through the Mayor’s Design Award. Almost more worthy of recognition: Potager gave its staff two paid vacations every year. It also eschewed reservations and never had a full liquor license, so only beer and wine were served. None of those things will change, at least not right away.
“Teri has always taken care of her employees,” Paul says, “and she created a great quality of life for her staff. We are committed to continuing that tradition.”
Paul, who grew up on a farm in Western Maryland, has cooked across the country over the past two decades, including stints with James Beard Award-winning chefs Roy Yamaguchi and Mark Vetri. He moved to Denver to open the now-closed Hedge Row in Cherry Creek, but found that his values aligned strongly with the locally-driven mission at Potager. At the time, Ripetto was searching for a new chef, and Eileen, a native New Yorker and certified sommelier, was already a part of the Potager team.
“It’s always been our dream to have a neighborhood restaurant,” Paul says, “where you feel like you’re home every time you come in. That is what Potager is. When the opportunity arose to make it our own, we were ready.”
For her part, Rippeto was ready for change. She recently married and has been traveling, and blogging, with her husband, Adam, who is a truck driver. Rippeto is also excited to spend more time painting; on June 8 and 9, she will take part in an art show hosted by the Art Students League of Denver.
“This change is overwhelming sometimes,” Rippeto says, “but I don’t think it can be a better transition. It is the Warthens’ dream and they are excited for everything, from the farmers to the seasonal menus and the care of the staff.”
The official handoff date is April 29, but little is expected to shift at Potager on that day. “With all the changes in this city and in the culinary world, I feel like it is important to allow an institution like Potager to be a constant,” Paul explains.
For more from Rippeto: The first episode of Hotspots: The Series, a climate change documentary from local filmmaker Carley Rutledge, features Teri Rippeto as she shares the impact of the farm-to-table movement on her life and work. The episode will premier this week; join the email list and you’ll receive a link to watch it when it does.