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The oldest restaurant in northern Colorado—and affirmed cinnamon roll king—is turning 90 this year. Leonidas “Flossie” Widger opened Silver Grill Cafe in 1933, serving meals to farmers and blue-collar workers. Today, the Fort Collins sweetheart lives on in its legendary hometown diner manner with well-worn booths, polished wood floors. and exposed brick walls; traditional breakfasts with bottomless hash browns; and an old-school coffee counter where it’s still acceptable to linger over the newspaper and chat until the lunch crowd trickles in.
The friendly Old Town spot changed hands several times after Widger’s tenure ended in 1949, but when John Arnolfo purchased the one-room diner in 1979 and made it his mission to bake the best cinnamon rolls this side of the Mississippi, Silver Grill Cafe’s legacy was set. In 1986, Arnolfo combined a 1969 Better Homes & Gardens recipe with tips from friends and family and hired retired German baker Russ Hamilton to help him perfect his gooey, sugary pull-apart pastry. Over the years, Arnolfo expanded Silver Grill into four adjacent buildings, and in 2021, he sold the diner to Loveland couple Alan and Jackie Jantzen who set an ambitious goal to sell 1 million cinnamon rolls in their first five years.
Today, the diner is dishing up 12 thousand cinnamon rolls a month and pulls in local accolades for best breakfast and lunch year after year. “The staff on the floor and those behind the scenes in the kitchen deserve all the credit,” says Alan Jantzen. “Jackie and I are fortunate to have a village of people who are so excited and want to work here.”
One of the nods the Jantzens are most proud of was an inclusion in Esquire Magazine’s “100 Restaurants America Can’t Afford to Lose” in December 2020, a time when a record number of mom-and-pop restaurants around the country reluctantly shuttered. The write-up extolled Silver Grill Cafe for cooking up the best breakfast in America with Southwest flair.
We recommend ordering a famous giant cinnamon roll ($5) to nibble on while inspecting the lengthy menu. Bring your appetite for diner signatures, including a heaping country-fried steak and eggs plate ($16) with hand-breaded USDA Choice Angus blanketed in creamy pepper gravy and served with crisped, fluffy hash browns and toast. Newer popular picks include Hatch green chile rellenos ($13) doused in homemade green chile and melted cheddar and plated with eggs your way, hash browns, and toast. The fried chicken and cinnamon toast ($15) is another instant classic built around a griddled, syrup-soaked cinnamon roll, juicy fried chicken breast, and two eggs made to order.
Silver Grill bakers are accustomed to brides requesting cinnamon roll wedding cakes, and the diner collaborates with Odell Brewing each fall on a sweetly spiced Cinnsation Ale cinnamon roll beer. Next up for the Jantzens: keeping hometown cooking alive at Vern’s Place in nearby Laporte. The couple recently purchased the 77-year-old restaurant—also serving up famous cinnamon buns—with a plan to keep flipping the beloved haunt’s famed omelets and flapjacks.
218 Walnut St., Fort Collins