For Tim and Genefer Thornton and Kurt and Sarah Pletcher, their joint appetite for risk is as big as their appetite for breakfast. That combination led the next-door neighbors and self-proclaimed “breakfast people” to open the kind of restaurant they routinely search for on weekends—a place for breakfast, lunch or brunch that has a varied menu, reasonable prices, is family-friendly, a little upscale but still welcoming. The aptly named “Four Friends Kitchen” opened in early March at 2893 Roslyn, between the Town Center and King Soopers.
The idea for the restaurant started two years ago when Sarah and Genefer joked that maybe they should just open their ideal restaurant, feeling that such a place that focused solely on breakfast, brunch and lunch, was lacking in the area. The joking soon turned into serious planning between the spouses, even building their restaurant from the ground up.
Four Friends Kitchen serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays and brunch on the weekends. Offerings from Head Chef Larry Shore include staples like omelets, huevos rancheros and sandwiches but also Southern-style dishes including Bacon Praline Pancakes, Shrimp and Grits and Beignets, inspired by Genefer’s grandmother’s Southern cooking.
All four owners loved the idea of Southern-style cooking but asked themselves just how Southern it was going to be. “You risk getting into a niche where people might not feel like Southern cooking,” says Tim. “But we have a good mix of breakfast and lunch basics that you’d expect, but then there’s the Southern dishes that are our signature.”
They gave their chef, Larry Shore, ideas about what they wanted and he delivered, almost too well. “It’s a double-edged sword,” says Tim. “He’s so creative and so full of ideas, our biggest challenge was eliminating things off the menu, which was almost impossible.” Shore will provide seasonal cuisine, retaining some staple menu items and sourcing locally whenever possible.
The friends, who had no prior experience opening a restaurant, easily agreed about what they wanted and, as Kurt puts it, they all had “the risk appetite to take it on.” Each owner brings to the table individual skill sets that have enabled them to divide up responsibilities while still working together cohesively. Tim, who works in management consulting, handled the business plan and marketing; Genefer, who worked for the federal government but grew up working in her family’s restaurants is the restaurant’s general manager; Kurt, a lawyer, has handled the legal aspects of the business and construction; and Sarah, a child psychologist, had the vision for the restaurant’s design as well as ideas for how to keep kids engaged and happy while there. Genefer will be the only owner working full time on-site. The others will keep their “day jobs” but will fill in as needed.
Lacking experience in building and opening a restaurant, the owners took advantage of a program through the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which has a satellite office at Johnson & Wales University. Mentors offer free one-on-one consulting and training services to give entrepreneurs the skills and knowledge to develop and sustain successful businesses. “It was key in helping us get going,” says Genefer. The owners feel the help they got polishing their business plan improved their chances of getting funding for the business.
The owners see Four Friends Kitchen as a complement to the existing mix of restaurants in the neighborhood; not running head-to-head against them. Instead, they see their restaurant as an additional way to build community. They welcome community groups and plan to have children’s activities during the week. “We want it to be a place people can come and, whether you have kids or not, feel comfortable,” says Sarah. That said, as parents of four children between them, ages 3–7, the co-owners feel Four Friends Kitchen has more options for children than most restaurants both in terms of menu options and activities, including a wall of Etch A Sketches to keep kids entertained. “It’s something to help with that time between when you walk in, get seated and when the child gets their food,” says Sarah. “We know, as parents, that’s usually the period where you’re like ‘just give me their food now so we can all enjoy our meal!’”
After looking into various lease options throughout Stapleton, the team decided it was better to build their own space. “It’s painful, it’s a lot of money and it’s a lot of risk,” says Kurt. “But when you look at the economics versus monthly rents and tenant improvement costs in a space you don’t own … there’s a ton of inherent risk in that too.” Instead of being limited by the small size of the lot, the owners took advantage of the situation, creating a rooftop patio to increase seating, allowing views of the mountains and The South Green. There are plans to open the rooftop patio on weekend evenings in the summer to take advantage of events in the area.
While the friends hope their restaurant will become popular within the neighborhood, they also see it as filling a void in the city. “We’re finally getting enough restaurants here that pull people in from outside Stapleton,” says Kurt. “They come to our place for breakfast, see The Berkshire, for instance, and they go there next week for dinner. You can live somewhere else in the city and say ‘Hey, let’s go to Stapleton’ and there are all kinds of options.”