In March, COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry like a Tyson haymaker. Scores of metro-area restaurants including heavyweights like Fresh Fish Company, Vesta, Rialto Cafe and dozens more, some in …
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In March, COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry like a Tyson haymaker.
Scores of metro-area restaurants including heavyweights like Fresh Fish Company, Vesta, Rialto Cafe and dozens more, some in business for decades, went down for the count.
So it would have been perfectly understandable if a craft brewery, just finding its way into the ring eight months prior to the shutdowns, got knocked out. But with perseverance, a full scratch kitchen, a dedicated team that believes in their company, some creative bobbing, weaving and maybe a little good karma, the Littleton location of Lariat Lodge Brewing Co. is still swinging.
General Manager Cheyenne Riefenberg has been with the company since the beginning, staring at the original Evergreen location five years ago, then transferred to new Littleton location as it opened at the end of Aug. 2019. She said owners Debbie and Anders Ruikka are like a second family. In fact there’s a lot of family comparisons as the management staff talks about the pandemic, staying afloat and making sure to give back to the community even in the lean days of the last several months.
“Opening a restaurant is always growing pains in the beginning. We finally started hitting our stride in January and then Covid came around,” said Head Chef Matthew Molina “We became really innovative really quickly especially seeing what worked, what didn’t work and what the community wanted, from food, to drinks.”
Riefenberg stressed that any kind of success in the restaurant business is always a testament to problem solving and thinking on your feet. But doing so in a pandemic was new territory for everyone. She thinks the Lodge’s ability to quickly change lanes, offering the community food, family packs and even their house-brewed beers to-go while refining the menu to make sure it was connecting with customers, has been crucial to their success. Not that staying open has been easy. On the contrary, a lot of tough decisions had to be made, and as with many restaurants, some staff had to be let go. But through it all they’ve tried to soften the blow, holding fundraisers for employees and even letting staff members take food home from the restaurant’s pantry.
“We’re a family,” Riefenberg said. “It was a lot of punches, and we’ve just been trying to figure out how to roll with them.”
Hospitality Manager, Carlos Martin couldn’t agree more. A recent transplant from New York City, Martin joined the company four months ago. He said it’s been inspiring to see the way employees from both locations have pulled together to help the company keep things going.
And it’s not just the employees giving back to the company that’s taking place, it’s also the company giving back to the community. Amid the unprecedented circumstances the crew has faced in establishing the Littleton location, they’ve also found time to organize fundraisers for firefighters. According to Molina, July’s Elephant Butte fire in Evergreen initially spurred their interest in supporting their local volunteer fire department. At that time, Head Brewer and part owner Eric Rode created an Elephant Butte Brown Ale, and Lariat Lodge donated $1 for every one of the new brews sold. That fire was eventually contained, but as new fires continued to wreck havoc on the high country, the Lariat crew wanted to find another way to support firefighters around the state. Since many fire departments receive federal funding, they’re prohibited from accepting donations, but as Martin continued making contact with various departments he was often given the same advice — donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. “The Foundation uses donations to help families of firefighters killed in the line of duty, and injured firefighters and their families,” Martin said. “They were super cool. They gave us a lot of swag to give out to the raffle winners, and have been really supportive”
He said that with so much of Colorado on fire, finding a way to donate on a broader scale just felt like the right thing to do. The giving starts at the top and dates back to the beginning of the company with the owners making a priority of helping whenever they see a need, from donating to animal shelters, to fundraising for employees facing medical problems, Riefenberg said.
To do all of that giving, a craft brewery has to make money, and to do that, they have to sell a lot of beer. The Littleton location has at least 10 craft brews on tap, but the greatest hits are the Angry Elk Amber Ale, Lariat Lodge IPA, Bear Creek Blonde Ale and Gogmagog, a Belgian style Golden Strong with a high alcohol content. Soon, a new winter ale will join the lineup, along with a seasonal menu change and a new cocktail menu. Riefenberg said they’re also hoping to offer some special whisky and beer dinners that give diners a chance to hear from the Molina and Rode about crafting the food and drinks. Above all they’re thankful for the support the community has shown and working hard to make sure it continues.
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