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Many Denverites know Punch Bowl Social (PBS) as the 24,000-square-foot gastro-diner, craft cocktail bar, and game emporium on South Broadway. That first location, which opened in 2012, was so successful, that CEO and founder Robert Thompson has since launched 14 additional properties nationwide, plus another Colorado location in Stapleton. In the coming months, Punch Bowl has plans to expand to nine additional markets around the U.S., and the growing empire has brought on chef and longtime Denverite Sheamus Feeley to oversee the scaling of its scratch kitchens. “One of the things that’s great about Punch Bowl is that it’s fun and genuine in the most organic way,” Feeley says. “I think the biggest thing we can focus on is, how are we able to keep that as we grow?”
In addition to bringing a new, fresh perspective to the established brand, Feeley comes with years of relevant experience. He was the founding chef of the much lauded farm-to-table Farmstead Restaurant in Napa Valley and worked as a longtime executive-level employee of the beloved Hillstone Restaurant Group, which includes Denver’s Cherry Creek Grill. Feeley also served as the Senior Vice President of Culinary and Kitchen Innovation for BJ’s Restaurants’ 200-some locations. Most recently, he helped open Denver’s Pony Up, where he remains a silent partner.
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Not only will Feeley will be crucial to helping ensure Punch Bowl remains nimble in responding to different market demands, but he’ll start revamping menu items as early as next year. (Hugh Acheson, who created much of the current menu, had simply run out of time capacity to serve in the role, according to PBS representatives.) While Feeley will change things up, he won’t touch the iconic Chicken ‘N’ Waffles or the Knockoff Burger, a classic combo with two patties, American cheese, mayo-based “Comeback” sauce, shredded lettuce, and pickled onions. “It’s simple, straightforward, and totally cravable,” says Feeley, who admits to eating the burger at least once a week.
Going forward, both Thompson and Feeley agree on the need to evolve and innovate without messing with a good thing—and they’ll be using the family-oriented Stapleton and millennial-heavy Broadway locations as testing grounds for change. “We’re going to experiment and use Denver as our laboratory,” Thompson says. “There’s so much migration to Denver, so we do get the flavor of a lot of America in the Denver market—it makes for a great place to test.”