GLENWOOD SPRINGS — If the little burger joint that could had any reservations about making the big move to larger quarters in a storied upstairs space overlooking the Grand Avenue Bridge, they were pretty much dispelled within a couple of days.
Since completing a major renovation and reopening two weeks ago in the old “Loft” restaurant location in the King Mall at 720 Grand Ave., The Grind has seen its business double since this time last year.
“We’ve had 3,000 people through here in 14 days,” said Grind co-owner Mike Mercatoris as customers were starting to line up for the lunchtime rush on Wednesday.
That amount of traffic would have surely violated fire safety codes at The Grind’s former digs around the block on Seventh Street.
“That little spot was really just an experiment to see if this thing would work,” Mercatoris said of the original Grind space with its tight, narrow layout and limited seating.
From the time he, along with managing partner and chef Chris Heinz and co-owner Henry Zheng first opened The Grind in the summer of 2011, the gourmet burger shop, which features locally produced meats that are ground in house (thus the name), was an instant hit.
But they always envisioned something a little bit more in terms of creating not just a place to grab a bite to go, but someplace to gather and hang out while enjoying a burger.
“From the beginning, this is what we wanted The Grind to be,” Mercatoris said while surveying the spacious new quarters, with its “mountain diner” motif.
There is seating for 60 customers now, which still leaves plenty of room for the kids to roam around while waiting for the food to come. There’s also a 12-foot projection television on the back wall, and retro video games, including Asteroids, Centipede and even a pinball machine, each for just a quarter per play.
“With the counter service for placing orders, it gives people the freedom to find a place to sit and still get up and move around until their food comes,” Mercatoris said. “Families can come in and the kids can play video games while mom and dad have a beer.”
Speaking of beer, The Grind now features a selection of eight draft beers, mostly from local or regional micro breweries. The one current exception is a micro brew out of California crafted by former local Todd Malloy, who got his start with the Rifle Brewing Co.
“We’re still all about keeping it local, and representing locals whenever we can,” Mercatoris said.
The Grind features local, grass-fed organic beef and lamb from Crystal River Meats in Carbondale, and gets most of its other meats, including buffalo, chicken and pork, from elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain region.
The restaurant’s decor was inspired by local interior designer Liz Holloway, and local tradesmen were used to whip the new space into shape.
“It’s completely a collaborative of friends,” said Mercatoris, who is also working with local artist Aften Wilcuts to make use of an adjacent ground-floor space, which can be viewed from the loft area, to showcase the works of area artists.
The original wood floors were sanded and refinished, the wooden table tops are made of reclaimed fir, and some of the old plumbing in the building was repurposed for light fixtures and stems for the counters, tables and diner-style stool seats. The seats themselves are from the original Riviera Supper Club, and had been in storage in the basement beneath the Riviera/Peppo Nino building just down the street, Mercatoris said.
The space itself is a little piece of local lore. While the most recent restaurant that occupied the space was called the Grand, it is best known by most longtime locals for its many years as The Loft restaurant.
“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘oh, we had our graduation party here, or a big birthday party,’” Mercatoris said. “We’re really hoping to bring back the energy of the old Loft.”
The extra space will also allow for future events, such as a “top chef” competition, cooking and tasting parties, music and other entertainment for happy hour and evening times, and parties for big sports events on the big screen TV.
“Having more space gives us the ability to do those kinds of things,” Mercatoris said.
Mercatoris is co-owner with Henry Zheng of the two Zheng Asian Bistro locations in Glenwood Springs and Basalt. Zheng is also where Heinz got his start in the local restaurant business before realizing his dream of having his own restaurant with The Grind.
Mercatoris and Zheng also recently bought the historic Riviera Supper Club in Glenwood Springs, in partnership with owner/manager Tammy Nimmo.
What they don’t want The Grind to be is a late-night bar. Closing time is 10 p.m. through the summer months, and Mercatoris said they plan to keep it that way.
“If we do anything after hours it will be special events and parties,” he said.
Look for The Grind to be included in the Denver Burger Battle coming up on Aug. 9. Heinz and his small team of burger chefs were invited to participate in the competition as the only invitees from outside Denver.