By Jennifer Pund
Whitney and Doug Smith looked at over 30 locations before stumbling on the perfect spot in Idaho Springs for their dream restaurant. Hailing from Memphis, the two plan to serve up special comfort food ranging from BBQ to grilled or fried catfish, fresh oysters and more at Da Rivuh Fish and BBQ Company. After months of planning and renovations, which are still underway, the Smiths plan to open Da Rivuh by the middle of November.
Leaving their lives in Memphis, the couple took a leap moving west after Whitney accepted a position at Children’s Hospital in Denver in 2012. Doug, who was a vice president of a construction company, completed his final contracts building MRI and ICU medical rooms and joined her in Parker in August 2013. “He said if we were going to make the decision to move, the only way he would do it is if he got a restaurant,” Whitney said.
Described as Southern-themed, Da Rivuh Fish and BBQ Company is a combination of the rich tradition of Whitney’s New Orleans heritage including Louisiana Creole “comfort food” and Doug’s years of perfecting Memphis-style BBQ. The menu is also seasoned with other inspired favorites from the couple’s travels throughout the South. “We’ve listened to everybody and think we have a pretty wide range of options if you just want a sandwich or you’re looking for a special entree.” Doug said. “We have options in all price points.”
Check out the restaurant’s Website for a sneak peak of the menu and items like the muffulletta—which is big enough to feed two—seafood gumbo, crispy fried chicken basket and dinner entrees like chicken n’ dumplings, flank steak or grilled fish with southern sides like red beans and rice or black eyed peas.
“We’ll have daily specials like pork chop dishes and sauteed catfish with smoked tomato and onion,” Doug said. “It’s like our comfort food, shrimp and grits, meat loaf sandwiches and po-boys,” Whiney added.
Doug admits his specialty is ribs, but says he also cooks a good shoulder. Spending six years on the “Soo-ciety” Memphis BBQ team, he learned the art of Memphis-style BBQ through annual competitions like the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Every year, 100s of teams from all over the country gather in Memphis to compete for money and prizes, but more importantly, “supreme” bragging rights. “So, we got good at it,” he said. “Working with that team is where I learned how to best cook pork shoulder and ribs but especially it was where I learned the ‘secret recipe’ for the BBQ we will do at Da Rivuh.”
Da Rivuh’s name is an homage to the Creole dialect and the common saying “across da’ rivuh,” referring to the west bank of the Mississippi or, specificity, New Orleans. “I was hoping it was hard enough to say that you really have to take the time to learn it,” says Doug.
With a vendor from Venice, Louisiana shipping in fresh oysters and shrimp from the Gulf, the Smith’s look forward to sharing seasonal favorites of the South. “We are really excited to have crawfish boils when they are in season,” Doug said.
Inspired by the family atmosphere of Beale Street in Memphis and the fun-lively environment of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Smiths want to help bring more attention to Miner Street, with visions of a crawfish festival or other community oriented events. “We just love [Miner Street], it’s so iconic. I’d love to see it get more promoted and cared for,” Doug said.
Visiting Idaho Springs was an annual tradition for Doug and his father, who lives in Highlands Ranch. “I’d either come out for Christmas or in January and we would go to Copper Mountain for a week, and we would stop in Idaho Springs coming and going, it was just something we did, so we are familiar with the town.” The couple is now looking forward to calling the town home, moving into the apartment attached to the restaurant space. “We are just excited to move up here in a few weeks and make this our home and our community. Everybody is so friendly,” Whitney said. “I was working outside and I met the guy from the pawn shop and the guy from the Tibetan store, and the jewelry shop guy. Everyone is so excited and welcoming.”
Doug has spent more than eight months putting the numbers together, working on projection and cash-flow analysis and was constantly changing them depending on the buildings they were considering. Thanks to a mis-timed trip to the Georgetown Loop and a long wait at a local pizza place, Doug and a few family members happened upon the empty Mangia! building. “We were looking for something nostalgic, and this place has a lot of character. I think it took me 30 days to close, so we did it pretty fast.” Doug explained.
Combining his experience of owning a small, seasonal golf course restaurant and construction skills, Doug is doing most of the renovation work himself, calling this the first phase of remodeling. Before opening day, there is much maintenance and cosmetic work to be done simply from the space sitting empty. “There is just so much tenant work that needs to be done just from it sitting here for two years, mechanics don’t like to sit that long, so I’m having to do a lot of mechanical work.”
The kitchen remodel will expand the space and be conducive to a new layout and equipment. “I’m totally stripping it down and doing new walls, new floor. It will also expand to have two runs—one for sandwiches and one for entrees—for speed of service,” Doug explains.
The Smiths look forward to learning on the job and a great season serving folks coming to and returning from the mountains. “I am going to learn as I go, but I don’t lack business savvy,” Doug explains. “I am hoping customers will look up the street and say this is closer and a lot faster,” he said referencing the traditional long wait at larger restaurants in town. “I think having the big guys here is a good thing.”
Whitney says they are currently staffing the restaurant for a mid-November opening. “We are looking to hire people who want to stay here long-term and be part of our family,” she said. Learning from his previous employer, Doug said he is a big believer in having “family-type” employees and emphasized the importance in supporting good workers. “We always took care of our employees and had very little turn over, he explained. “I am a big believer in finding the right people and supporting them when life events happen. Let them know they have a place and people will work hard for you.”
The couple is ready for business but still have a sense of humor about replacing the explanation point on the side of the building, left over from the Mangia! restaurant sign, with a large question mark to get people wondering what they were up to. When the signs are hung and paper removed from the windows, Da Rivuh Fish and BBQ Company will be ready to serve unique fast meal options at a reasonable price bringing Southern hospitality to Miner Street.
For more information and complete menu, visit http://www.darivuh.com.
Originally published in the November 2014 issue of MMAC Monthly