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One year ago today, on the Cherry Cricket’s busiest day of the year, a kitchen fire roared to life and shut down the restaurant for five months. When the icon reopened in mid-April, it was a relief for burger fans and co-owner Lee Driscoll alike. But the experience, Driscoll says, also led to opportunity. “When you’re an older restaurant, you’re holding things together with Scotch tape and safety pins,” he says. “But, now, we had the opportunity to really rebuild the restaurant—the first time since 1950—and to make it brand-new underneath its skin is tremendous.” Aside from a more efficient kitchen, slightly different tile, and a few other minor changes, the Cricket feels and looks the same. This was motivated, Driscoll says, “by fear. The Cricket has fairy dust has on it and you don’t mess with it.”
That said, the process allowed Driscoll and the Breckenridge-Wynkoop LLC restaurant group to actualize the long-lingering idea of doing a second Cricket in the recently closed Breckenridge Brewery on Blake. (Breckenridge-Wynkoop LLC has a long-term lease on the space.) “We could tell when we were putting the Cricket back together that we could get it right,” Driscoll says.
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But make no mistake, this will not be a replica. It can’t be. Instead, Driscoll urges fans to think of it as a sister restaurant with the same DNA in terms of great food and service. It’s the Cherry Cricket 2.0, and Driscoll aims to have it open by February. He also recognizes that there are other spots with good food and drink in the area. “We don’t want to go head-to-head with well established, good operators,” Driscoll says. “That’s one of the greatest vanities of restaurateurs, thinking you can do it better than others.” Instead, the Cricket plans to position itself more as a restaurant than a bar where people can come for burgers and frings before or after hitting the sports bars. This location will also have a designated to-go area. The original Cricket does quite a bit of to-go business but the restaurant isn’t set up to do it in volume. This one will be. Driscoll aims to have the restaurant open by February, but by Rockies Opening Day (April 6) at the very latest.
After mulling over the changes the last year has brought, Driscoll has collected several bits of advice for his peers:
1. On being prepared…The principal thing is that you’ve got to have insurance that covers the tip portion of employee payroll. [If disaster strikes] It’s critical because servers can’t live off minimum wage and you lose your staff. Ninety percent of policies don’t cover it and most restaurateurs don’t realize that. Most policies cover payroll but the insurance company can take the position that tips are not included in payroll. Ask the question.
2. On sage advice…Hickenlooper once told me: ‘Other restaurants are not the enemy. The enemy is the couch and the TV.’ [Before John Hickenlooper ran for mayor, and then for governor, he was a part of Wynkoop Holdings, a restaurant group that bought the Cherry Cricket in 2001 and later merged with Breckenridge Brewery).
3. On the power of variety…The lead item on the menu is the Lil’ Cricket Burger but what really makes [the restaurant] successful is that the whole menu is good. We have a super broad demographic—it truly is hard hats and suits and families with kids in prams and people who wouldn’t be near a kid. It’s about having a really strong bench in terms of a menu. If you want four to five people agree to go to the Cricket, it’s got to be dynamic. There’s no veto vote.
Cherry Creek: 2641 E. Second Ave., 303-322-7666
Ballpark: 2220 Blake St. (opening in early 2018)