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Three Things You Didn’t Know is a reoccurring series where we dig up interesting facts about your favorite chef, bartender, sommelier, cheese monger, cicerone, GM, or industry insider.
Chances are good you already know the legend of chef Dana Rodriguez’s nickname: Loca (meaning “crazy” in Spanish). The moniker stuck years ago after she set a manager straight while working under Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch at Panzano. And you might recall that Rodriguez became a bold-face name when, after working at Rioja and helming the kitchen at Bistro Vendôme (both under the Jasinski-Gruitich banner), she left in 2013 to open the instant-hit Work & Class with partners Tony Maciag and Delores Tronco. (5280 wrote about Loca’s meteoric rise here).
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Rodriguez, who was raised on a farm in north-central Mexico, is at once tough and buoyant, astute and nurturing, and she never stops pushing herself or those around her. As proof, she, along with Maciag and partner Tabatha Knop, are working on a new concept: Super Mega Bien. The Latin dim sum restaurant (yes, small plate–laden carts will roam the dining room) and the Ramble Hotel in which its located will both open in March.
The front door will face Work & Class but Super Mega Bien isn’t an extension of W&C. Rodriguez, Maciag, and Knop are looking to bring something entirely new to the city. “When we opened Work & Class, there was nothing like it, Rodriguez says. “Now [with Super Mega Bien] there is nothing like Pan-Latin dim sum. Denver needs something different, fun, and unique.”
The kitchen will sit in the middle of the restaurant and the cooking will span from Mexico to Bolivia. The menu will be divided between the small plates and large, family-style dishes such as caldo de piedra. As Rodriguez tells it, this Oaxacan-style soup is made by placing water, vegetables, and fish in dried out pumpkin shells. Hot rocks bring the water to a boil and “you get the freshest soup,” she says. At Super Mega Bien, the soup will be served tableside, pumpkin shells and all.
Just days before Rodriguez and Knop headed to Mexico and Peru on a research trip, we asked Rodriguez to take a moment to reflect on what it takes to run a successful restaurant while opening a new one. Here are three things you might not know about Loca and her views on the industry itself.
1. On staying fresh…It’ll be four years for Work & Class on January 29. We don’t really change the menu at Work & Class, to me it’s more about being yourself. People come sometimes three or four times a week. It’s because the food is good, the drinks are good, and it’s consistent. That’s the biggest issue in the industry: consistency. We fight every day for consistency on food, drink, and taking care of the costumer. You would think when you change the menu it’s good, but it’s not as a way to have people come. We have the same sales as when we opened, even with all the new restaurants opening. We keep it the way it is. We fight in a different way. That makes us better.
2. On taking care of your own…We offer accidental, dental, medical, 401K, vacation, and we’re closed 10 days at the beginning of the year. Our plan is also to do profit sharing. We pay our employees really well but it’s about taking care of them in other ways too. You care for your people. It’s that way all the way through the restaurant. There’s this big issue right now: Why restaurants can’t find the right people? Everyone is looking for the new chef and new experience, and no one wants to teach someone to be a leader. Only looking for the next new chef is a mistake. If you don’t take that chance, maybe I don’t have my own restaurant right now.
3. On being part of the community…Tony loves dogs and we have neighborhood dogs stop by for treats every day. It’s fun to watch the dogs drag their owners to Work & Class. We go through more dog treats than I’ve ever seen. We post our dogs’ profiles on our Facebook page—we call them the dogs of Work & Class. Tony likes dogs more than people. [kidding. Not kidding.]
Get a sneak peak: Rodriguez and the Super Mega Bien crew are hosting pop-ups at Work & Class to practice the menu. Watch Work & Class’ Facebook page and Super Mega Bien’s website for details on the Dia De Los Meurtos dinner in late October.