On any given Sunday, you can find Troy Guard, his wife Nikki, and their 4-year-old daughter Grace grabbing breakfast, riding bikes, playing in the park and generally hanging around their Stapleton neighborhood. But the rest of the week he’s in full-on restaurant mode. After having lived and worked all over the world, the chef and restaurateur has made Denver his home and hub for his six restaurants.
TAG, TAG Raw Bar, Los Chingones, Sugarmill and the newest, Guard and Grace (opening in March), are located in downtown Denver with TAG Burger Bar in Congress Park. Because much of his time is spent downtown, going between restaurants, taking care of the business side of things and working in the kitchen, living in Stapleton the past two years gives Guard the respite he needs from his rigorous schedule.
In a typical week, Guard makes the rounds of his restaurants during the day, cooking at them on a rotating basis three or four nights a week, with Sunday his only full day off. Since Guard’s time is so scheduled, he sets aside two afternoons a week to pick up his daughter from school to have some father/daughter time, hanging out at home and cooking dinner together, usually something grilled with a salad. The family eats out a lot too, at a variety of area restaurants or at one of Guard’s, where Nikki is the food and beverage manager for the restaurant group. Grace knows the staff at each of the restaurants and loves to order for herself.
The family also frequents a variety of Asian restaurants on S. Federal Blvd. where the cuisine reminds Guard of his early years in the restaurant business. Born in Hawaii, Guard moved with his family to Seattle when he was 7 years old, San Diego when he was 14 (and where he started working in restaurants) and then back to Hawaii at 21. Although he notes the irony of the number seven in all of those moves, it wasn’t luck but hard work that ultimately landed Guard restaurant jobs in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and New York before moving to Denver—all without having attended culinary school. “I would never say (culinary) school is not beneficial, but for me, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it so I just worked really hard and worked my way up,” he says.
Despite his childhood dream of becoming a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, dashed because “I didn’t grow,” Guard always tried to work with excellent chefs to further his education and restaurant career. That included Chef Richard Sandoval, who owns restaurants internationally. Sandoval offered Guard the opportunity to be his partner in opening Zengo in Denver.
Guard’s main concern about moving to Denver was that it wasn’t by water, a concern for someone who had never been landlocked. “Pretty much from the minute I moved here, I loved it, though, because of the sunshine, the people and it has a great vibe to it,” Guard says. “Even though I’ve lived in big cities and love the energy, after traveling and working in all those places, it was nice to come here. It just feels really comfortable.”
Each of Guard’s restaurants has a different concept based on what he enjoys eating and what he thinks the residents of each area would like. “It would be a lot easier to have all of one kind of restaurant,” Guard says. “It’s hard to produce something from scratch, but I like to try new things and put myself out there.”
Opening each restaurant with the help of investors, loans and his own money (the first restaurant, TAG, was opened with a loan from his parents), Guard isn’t worried about the expansion of his restaurant empire. “There’s always room for good products.”
He has opened the majority of his restaurants downtown because it draws a combination of business people, travelers and residents from all over. “It’s about what the people want in a neighborhood. I look at where there’s a need,” he says. Guard feels that neighborhood need includes Stapleton and is keeping an eye out for the right space. That would make another lucky seven in Guard’s life, but the number of restaurants in his collection isn’t his goal.
With the opening of Guard and Grace, he will be responsible for 250 employees. He’s proud of having provided jobs and for contributing nearly $100,000 each year in both time and resources to the community including his annual involvement cooking at the Superbowl for Taste of NFL benefitting Food Bank of the Rockies. The TAG Restaurant Group marketing director works with the community to identify good partnerships for local charities and events. Guard says, “I just want to make a good mark for my staff, my community and my daughter.”