By Jeffrey V. Smith
All the clichés apply. The owners of The Buffalo and new Westbound & Down Brewing Company in Idaho Springs have gone above and beyond, spared no expense, didn’t skimp and avoided cutting corners while renovating and recreating the decades-old business. It’s taken a year, but the wait is almost over, and the experience will certainly be worth it.
Known as one of Colorado’s most authentic Western dining establishments, The Buffalo closed mid-October 2014, auctioned off part of its extensive collection of antique signs and other items and began the process of renovating its more-than-a-century-old buildings. This was the first time in decades anything major has been done to the place. “I’ve worked here for 20 years, and all they’ve done… is throw some paint on the walls,” Manager and Partner Dan Ebert said. It was time for something to be done.
The renovations have created two distinctly different parts to the old restaurant. In the main dining area, The Buffalo will continue to function as a full-service restaurant, while the other side will have a modern pub feel and its own 15-barrel brewery. Each will have separate signage and be distinctive from the outside, but come together on the inside and share a kitchen and staff. “I really hope we created a place locals will enjoy,” Ebert said. “I know people traveling through the area will really enjoy it, because there is nothing like it.”
The Buffalo side of the business was kept alive because of its established name, but the brewery is actually the main focus of its owners. “If this is successful, the idea is to take the concept of Westbound & Down Brewing Company and open another one somewhere else, and do that a few times.,” Ebert said.
Although the project has progressed according to plan, for the most part, it’s taken a lot longer than anticipated. Ebert and his partners originally wanted to be open back in May, but I-70 construction kept that dream at bay. “I-70 has probably cost us an additional 10 percent in costs,” Ebert said. “That’s lost production time with people getting stuck in traffic getting here. It’s paying extra to get sub-contractors willing to drive up here. It’s work days where, literally, the guys have gotten three hours of work in because it’s taken them two and half hours to get here. Contrary to that, we’re excited we’ve been closed during this whole thing. I bet without that lost time, we would’ve been open three months ago.”
Also, the idea was not this big initially, Ebert explained. At first, they simply wanted to renovate half the building and put in a craft brewery. “Once we got into it, we realized if we’re going to do it, we’ve got to do it right. The wow factor in here will be incredible,” he said.
Another issue arose during the demolition process when an unused and previously unknown water tap was found entering the building. “We discovered one five years ago when it froze and caused $15,000-$20,000 worth of damage, and we discovered the other one during demolition. It became our cost to eliminate those, which was fine because we didn’t want to deal with any issues down the road,” Ebert explained. Not much else has been a big problem for the project and working with the town’s contracted building inspectors was “easy” and without issue. “The city has been phenomenal, which has been nice.”
One of the first changes seen on the front and back of the building are new signs, including a new look for The Buffalo. Ebert is especially proud of the signage on the back of the building, something no one else in town has. “It’s like a beacon from the highway. A billboard on I-70 runs about $5,000 a month, and this is better than a billboard,” he said.
Once the restaurant and brewery open to the public, interior work and changes will be obvious. The vision behind the new brewery and revamped restaurant came from Alan Lock, a “very good” friend of the owner of the building, and a retired architect. Craig E. Abrahamson and Tom Peterson of Clear Creek Technical Services in Georgetown were the engineer and architects on the project.
Renovations have been extensive and most everything is new or completely refurbished from floor to ceiling, including the ceiling. Details like hiding sprinkler heads, lighting and air ducts have not been spared. The bar in the brewery has a solid-stone surface and beetle kill wood is used throughout. Lighting for the entire restaurant and brewery is on a programmable dimming system and the bathrooms have been completely gutted and refurbished. The “best” seats and custom-made tables were also brought in. The attention to every detail is extraordinary.
The brewery has all-new, all American-made equipment from JV Northwest in Oregon. They built the system, set it up and pre-plumbed it. It was then disassembled and shipped on three semis. “Two of us moved the whole thing in,” Ebert explained.
Part of the brewing system includes a whole-building water filter system and glass washers at all bar stations. “We figured if we were going to make our beer with no chlorine in it, then rinsing with chlorinated water would just be putting that flavor back into the beer. The idea is to rinse with clean water,” Ebert said.
The owners went “above and beyond” when it came to the tap system, and everything else. A more expensive option was purchased which can feed up to 14 different beers to the two bars. Beer can be pulled from the bright tanks or attached to a keg. This will also allow them to serve beer from other breweries.
Westbound & Down Brewing currently is contracting with Steve Kirby, Owner and Head Brewer at Hogshead Brewing in Denver to make their beer. “We’ll see what we need to do about bringing someone on full time,” Ebert explained. “Contracting with a head brewer rather than have one on-site was a little frustrating because I didn’t have all the answers I needed all the time. I don’t want to be brewing, I just want to know what’s going on.”
The kitchen, which is built to serve more than 1,000 meals a day when necessary. There is a brand-new 27-foot hood and all types of new equipment including ovens, fryers, pressure fryers, CVap ovens, cold tables, a blast chiller, French-fry warmer, bun toaster, hot wells, ice-cream wells, prep tables, LED lighting and brand new, double, 8×8-foot walk-in coolers.
The menu at The Buffalo is going to be different, according to Ebert, “but not different in such a way that people are going to think it’s weird.” There will be a buffalo burger and beef burger, but not offered seven different ways. “It’s going to be our way,” Ebert said. “We’re trying to streamline service so we can do great food, and do it fast.
On the Westbound & Down side, which is designed to have a tap house feel, everything is self-service. Patrons walk up to the bar and order beer or food from a bartender and sits down. A food runner will come out and drop the food, ending the contact with staff—unless you want more. Things are designed for people to be able to come in, order and get their food within minutes. “We hope when [The Buffalo] is on a 45 minute wait, people will choose to stop over [at the brewery],” Ebert said. “If you want to spend 20 minutes, you spend 20 minutes. If you want to spend an hour, you spend an hour.”
Things are looking “iffy” for a November opening, but Ebert thinks things will be underway by Dec. 1 or soon after. [Westbound & Down is now open] “I’m excited to try the first batch of beer and seeing how well the whole thing works,” Ebert said.
Originally published in the November 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly.