THE WANDERER Visits Frank’s Food & Bodega: A COVID-19 Success Story
“You don’t have to be a rock star to eat like one!”
Last week I brought 5280 Geek readers the story of rewiring myself in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was only half of the story of figuring out what’s next in the new abnormal.
The half I didn’t tell was what happened to my bosses and coworkers at the hospitality company I worked at before coronavirus shutdown our entire industry and incomes.
Like my tale of finding a new calling, theirs is a success story as well.
It’s the story of a mother and son’s ingenuity and resilience, as well as a testament to the strength of a community and the friendships within it.
I’m privileged to present the story of Frank’s Food & Bodega. Enjoy the article and then go treat yourself to some rock star food.
Seven months ago I was manning the production dining room backstage at All Elite Wrestling’s weekly Dynamite television show. The event was taking place at Broomfield, Colorado’s 1st Bank Center.
Despite my best effort to avoid any news, word had begun pouring in about a virus out of China. Word on the street held that the virus was deadly. It was spreading rapidly and making its way into our borders here in the U.S.
The show’s cameramen, sound technicians, and production managers were chatting amongst themselves about the arising pandemic.
Despite all the buzz on the virus, the event went off without a hitch. I managed to sneak down to the third row at ringside where I witnessed Golddust throwing signed apples from one of my dining room’s snack baskets to fans in the crowd.
As I watched body-slams and high flying antics I had no clue that the following week ESL Gaming’s Pro League Championships, which was set to take place at the same venue, would be cancelled.
That was the first of many events to come that my team and I were scheduled to work, but would vanish in pandemic panic along with toilet paper and N95 masks. The entire live event industry would cease to exist for the rest of spring, and the entire summer through now.
Colorado wasn’t alone in the mandated closures and prohibitions on large social gatherings. Everything was done to protect people’s health and lives, but despite the government’s efforts many people still suffered, and they hadn’t even contracted the virus.
Remember those production managers, cameramen, and sound engineers that were fretting in the dining room? They were out of their jobs.
Lighting technicians and stagehands, gone. Merch salespeople, maintenance, security, ticket sales; hasta la vista.
My company, Blue Note Event Services, provides upscale hospitality and dressing room service for musicians, performers, and talent as they make their tour stops in Colorado. Naturally, we were part of the fallout the same as everyone else.
Everybody was out of work. The few that were lucky enough to have been retained for the slow winter season went onto unemployment.
Not everyone was as fortunate. Most live industry employees are gig workers, complicating the situation further. Some didn’t make enough income to get approved for a livable wage. Others were denied their claims outright.
Blue Note’s income comes primarily from concerts. Once outdoor venues and stadiums open up for summer shows business quadruples, trickling down to the employees in additional shifts and wages.
In a typical year those that don’t save and plan for the off-season end up penniless before year’s end. This year, right when savings from 2019 was beginning to slim out, everyone was told to stay home indefinitely.
If there’s anything that can be said of the strange and diverse team I worked with it’s that we’re all entrepreneurial and creative. Some were able to pick up odd jobs or lean into our side hustles. Regardless, everyone was hurting.
Luckily the mother and son duo at Blue Note didn’t sit idly by and wait for the pandemic to end. They had the same entrepreneurial traits as well. They may have even selected us employees based on them.
I first met Irene Taras and Blake Elwell almost twenty years ago in Nederland, Colorado. Irene owned and operated a unique upscale cafe at the traffic circle of that small ski town called the Pink Flamingo. Blake was the restaurant’s head chef.
The Pink, as those of us who frequented it came to know it, was quirky, yet stylish. It was a restaurant that featured gourmet dishes and rich handmade desserts. The walls were adorned with beach decor, and the drink specials flowed. Capped off with the Pink’s nutty staff, the restaurant was a hit.
My wife and I frequented the Pink Flamingo as often as our meager hourly wages allowed us to. We loved the food and the people.
I loved it so much that I took to bugging Irene to let me serve there. I didn’t have the fine dining or bartending experience that she demanded, but eventually I wore her down and gave me my shot.
Right away I could see what made the Pink Flamingo work. The people who worked there were like a family. Not a corporate company line family, but a real one.
I only ended up working at the Pink for that summer, but I still got adopted. Now, a lifetime later, those same people are still in my life.
After departing the Flamingo for a corporate management opportunity I stayed in touch with many of the people there. Blake ended up marrying my wife’s best friend, Jen. Our kids played together regularly before the pandemic stole that from them as well.
Rising rent and an inefficient, antiquated building made Irene and Blake question the viability of keeping the Pink Flamingo open. They opted to pivot into a new venture that Irene had mastered in the past; concert catering.
I stayed on eight years with the company I left the Pink Flamingo for before getting fired for chasing a shoplifter despite being warned by loss prevention not to. After a phone call to Blake and Irene letting them know about my poor luck–decision making and judgement–I was invited to come onboard at the event service company.
Provided I followed the rules–Always have coffee ready, hot foods hot, cold food cold, keep it clean–I would have a job as long as I wanted it.
Like the Flamingo, Blue Note Event Services is—I’ll use ‘is’ with the expectation and hope that one day the concert industry will return to its former glory—staffed with professionals who also happen to mess around, play hard, party, and most importantly, have each others’ backs. Also like at the Pink, it’s family.
During an event day we worked hard. We prepared and served breakfast for fifty people or more. Then we made lunch for over a hundred, and finally dinner and dessert for topping two hundred.
Coffee was served between 6:30 & 7 in the morning as the first truckers rolled in. Dinner dishes got dried off put away around 9 pm. They were long days. When someone worked one, they worked the whole day, all thirteen to fifteen hours.
It may sound crazy. I wouldn’t argue that most of us weren’t, at least a little, but aside from the amazing recipes Blake and Irene carried forth from the Pink, there were tons of other perks as well. Most notably, concert headliners usually took the stage just as we got off from our shifts.
Our working passes were all-access. That’s where much of the inspiration for these Wanderer columns has come from.
Backstage and in dressing rooms we fed and pampered rock and pop stars and peons alike. We offered healthy options for those who ran the stairs at Red Rocks on break. We put out local handmade cakes and cookies for those with a sweet tooth. We even prepared special order meals for anyone who asked for one and almost never told anyone No. Blake and Irene taught us that from day one. Take care of the customer.
Instead of no we said, “Let me see what I can do.” Ninety-nine out of a hundred times we did it. We delivered on countless, ridiculous requests like vegan dishes, plain chicken breasts, and low fat donuts.
It was how we were trained. It was the Blue Note way. It’s the one of the main reasons we had such great working relationships with production companies, the cities the venues are in, and the performers. Those were the standards we prided ourselves on.
That is, until spring of 2020, and we all know how that story went. . .
Irene, Blake, and the rest of the Blue Note employees scattered into self-quarantine with no clue what would come next. There wasn’t any income coming in. The best any of us could hope for was uncertainty, and that’s what all of us received.
We’re all grateful for the CARES act stimulus and the PPP loans Blue Note was able to secure, but that money was spent on bills and food as fast as it was deposited into our checking accounts.
But while the rest of us struggled to figure out what would to do, Irene and Blake pivoted again. It’s how they’re built.
The two looked at the company’s unused kitchen and the restaurant space in front of it, then vacant, and formulated a plan. They would open a bodega.
Like Blue Note before it the bodega brought forth the best of the previous businesses. It doesn’t take long when you enter the new store to see that.
Eyes are drawn upward as shoppers and employees enter Frank’s Food & Bodega to one of the many signed concert photos, each from the actual shows Blue Note served at backstage in venues all over Colorado.
More subtle, though, is the food and grocery offerings. Frank’s offers high quality and healthier options, but what the uninitiated won’t realize is that they’re looking at the exact same dishes served to performers backstage at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Fiddlers Green, and Invesco Field.
Last week they prepared the Thai curry shrimp they made for Ariana Grande at her 2017 visit to the Pepsi Center. This past Wednesday they served jerk chicken and quinoa stuffed poblano peppers from Greensky Bluegrass’s 2017 Red Rocks show.
Frank’s Food & Bodega plans to feature Band Favorite Menus every Wednesday. Rumor has it that Umphree’s Magee and Big Gigantic’s offerings are on deck. Be sure to follow them on Instagram and Facebook to discover what your favorite acts have eaten.
Working the concerts at Blue Note was amazing, but the food was always best part. I used to bring home tons of leftovers and eat them for days. Now, thanks to Frank’s opening, I can get a taste again.
And that’s not even my favorite part of the story. . .
Frank’s Food & Bodega is employing fifteen of the twenty-five Blue Note Event Services employees, and that number’s still growing. The staff at Frank’s is the same people who cooked, baked, and served The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, and Oprah Winfrey on their last visits to Colorado.
When you look around Frank’s unique, eclectic atmosphere you’re looking at an actual backstage experience. The stock and prepared foods are exactly what you’d see in the backstage spread at Pepsi Center or in the tower dressing rooms at Red Rocks.
So far I’ve brought home Frank’s turkey meatloaf, whole roasted chicken, kale quinoa salad, a bunch of oatmeal raisin cookies, a lemon cake-pop, and more. All of it made in house, delectable, and worth every dollar.
If there’s anything all of us could use right now in the age of COVID it’s good news and comfort food. Frank’s Food & Bodega provides both of those and more.
Irene, Blake, and the entire team at Frank’s Food & Bodega are killing it.
Katie Rose, show manger at Blue Note and floor manager of Frank’s, told me, “I’m grateful we were able to find a way to continue doing what we love. We’re still feeding people in the midst of so many people being out of work.”
Frank’s is located at 5700 West 25th Avenue in Edgewater Colorado, a few short minutes from Denver. They’re currently hiring high quality rock stars if you know any. They’re also looking for local bands and DJs to perform live on the lawn out front.
Visit Frank’s Food & Bodega and celebrate a rare local COVID success story with them. It’s impossible not to leave satisfied.
Until next time, Stay geeky and tell them The Wanderer sent you.
Another wandering by John Andreula.
Words and stuff corewrekted by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
John’s on Instagram at: JohnAndreulaWritesStuff
Kodid’s at: Leyla.Kodid
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