Wine, food and fun with the Guv and CRA

Author: Ben Weinberg - January 21, 2014 - Updated: January 21, 2014

To launch the 2014 legislative session, the Colorado Restaurant Association recently held its 23rd annual premier legislative event — aka the Blue Ribbon Reception — in the Capitol Peak Ballroom on the 38th floor of downtown Denver’s Grand Hyatt Hotel. Most of the attention at the reception was on the food, but there were also several distributors showcasing local wines, beers and other beverages. And of course, politics was served straight up on the menu, as always, at this event which culminates the first day of the session. The bipartisan crowd sipped and sampled to everyone’s delight.

Governor John Hickenlooper, among old friends from his days as proprietor of The Wynkoop Brewery before he became mayor and eventually guv, spoke briefly at the reception, calling the restaurant industry the glue of our economy, and stating that he understood the importance and value that restaurants and hotels have in Colorado’s economy, from dollars generated to the number of employees making their livelihoods in the industry.

Sonia Riggs, COO of the CRA who is taking over for longtime stalwart Pete Meersman who is retiring, appreciates the Governor acknowledging this importance. “Every dollar spent promoting Colorado results in 10 dollars in sales taxes collected from tourists who would not have come to Colorado if not for the promotional activities funded by the Colorado Tourism Office,” she said. “These taxes go toward improving roads, funding schools, and to other important infrastructure enhancements that keep our state functional and attractive for our citizens and for visitors to Colorado.” Total restaurant sales in Colorado are expected to top $9.8 billion in 2014, with the state’s restaurants generating approximately $681 million in state and local taxes. Add in 245,000 locally employed workers and you have something that is absolutely crucial to our state’s survival and progress.

Colorado Restaurant Association

430 E. 7th Ave.

Denver, CO 80203



Riggs goes on to say that the most common concerns for members of the Colorado Restaurant Association are, understandably, issues impacting their businesses. “More than 75 percent of Colorado’s restaurants are independently owned, single-unit operations, and the average profit margin in a restaurant is less than four percent. Even a small change in the law can have a major impact on survival. We respond to these issues by diligently monitoring bills and regulations and by having honest and open dialogue with major stakeholders.” Something that often interests CRA members is regulatory reform. “Additional regulatory burdens force them to either work more hours or hire additional staff, cutting even further into their already slim margins.”

Christine O’Donnell of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association; Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association; Gov. Hickenlooper; pizza franchisee/House Majority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland; Sonia Riggs, COO of the CRA; and John Beck, CRA board member.

The mission of the CRA is to represent, educate and promote Colorado’s foodservice industry while fostering high standards of business practice and integrity. The CRA is dedicated to providing leadership, advocacy, information and services to enhance the success of its members and Colorado’s foodservice industry in general. There are seven CRA chapters statewide, including three student chapters. These allow members to share ideas and to participate and focus their energy on local events and issues. Chapters also provide educational opportunities and localized events across the state.

Christine O’Donnell, president of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, listens to the remarks of the Governor on Jan. 8 during the reception that her organization co-hosted.

What an Opportunity!

The Grand Hyatt Denver’s Executive Chef John Treusein always welcomes the opportunity to host so many of his colleagues. For him, setting up before the party is generally the most crucial element of the entire event. “All of the vendors, who usually arrive at the same time, must have their needs met and be able to create their booths easily and efficiently. We proactively send questionnaires asking what they might be looking for and providing practical information on parking, loading and unloading, etc. They are all professionals and know how to work with our staff to make set-up seamless.”

State Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, enjoy the delicious offerings at this year’s Blue Ribbon Reception hosted by the Colorado Restaurant Association.

But the Grand Hyatt’s involvement doesn’t end there. “With the five ballrooms of our newly redesigned Pinnacle Club,” says Treusein, “overlooking the mountains and the Mile High City, we see a lot of fundraising events. It is exciting to see all of the attention and interest this new space has generated.” Treusein also enjoys greeting guest speakers with differing political agendas. “They are interesting and engaging. Two of our favorites who make frequent stops here are Governor Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.”

Let the Members Speak!

For CRA members, the reception was a once-a-year opportunity to inform their legislators on what’s important for the upcoming year. Attendees also mingled with their industry peers and enjoyed food and beverages compliments of several of Colorado’s best restaurants. The Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association was the co-host of the event.

Mike Garcia, general manager of Hurricane Grill & Wings in Littleton (www.hgwcolorado.com) says that the people aspect of the CRA is the best part, “from assisting with flood victims to the organization’s helpful manner in keeping operators up to date on vital business information.”

With the number of jobs that are available in the restaurant industry, its charitable contributions, and the quality of life it is able to give its customers, Garcia believes that Hickenlooper’s use of the term “glue” is entirely correct. “Restaurants offer a
getaway, family time, and comfort to so many. Disposable incomes have been depleted over the last few years but people have proven their need for us over and over again.”

At the reception, Hurricane Grill & Wings served a tremendous fish dip accompanied by tortilla chips, one of my favorite nibbles of the whole evening, and Garcia says that this delectable delight is best accompanied by an ice cold beer. Other offerings included the restaurant’s garlic inferno wings, which are best washed down with a proprietary Hurricane Bumbe, and a chicken lettuce wrap that goes great with slightly sweet, frizzy wine such as moscato.

Another of the wonderful restaurants at the reception was Angelo’s Taverna on 6th Ave. in Denver (www.angelosdenver.com). Owner/Oyster Wrangler Eric Hyatt, who says he has the freshest oysters at the best price in town, served fresh-shucked Goose Point Oysters from Washington, “with which a cold Denver Beer Company Graham Cracker Porter pairs amazingly well! If you are a wine drinker, then I would recommend the Gini Soave, a nice Italian white that’s great with all sorts of seafood. We also served chili relleno raviolis, and at the restaurant we steer folks toward Folonari’s Valpolicella from the Veneto in Italy, which matches exceedingly well with the spiciness of that particular dish.”

Hyatt likes the feeling of support that CRA offers. “From helpful information about changing laws to ideas on how to improve my business, it’s all good.” The CRA’s Riggs chimes in that her organization also has a direct and positive impact on job creation and retention in Colorado. “We protect the interests of restaurateurs at the State Capitol, helping to train and maintain this crucial workforce. One half of all adults have worked in the foodservice industry at some time, where they gain valuable skills that they use throughout their lives.”

More Details

The event was presented by Grand Hyatt Denver, US Foods, and Heartland Payment Systems. Other participating restaurants included Angelo’s Taverna, Baca at Inverness Hotel & Resort, Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria, Mangia Bevi Café, Metro University Denver, Outback Steakhouse, The Penrose Room at the Broadmoor, Seattle Fish Company, Ted’s Montana Grill, Texas Roadhouse, The Airplane Restaurant, The Fort, The Fresh Fish Company and Wild Eggs. The organizers also expressed special thanks to Beverage Distributors, Breckenridge–Wynkoop, J & S Audio Visual, Republic National Distributing and Southern Wine & Spirits.

Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com. Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com

See the Jan. 17 print edition for full photo coverage.

Ben Weinberg