The Grill To Close Oct 6 Without New Owner
“End of an ERA? It is for the Martinez Family!
CLOSING Oct 6? See you by Oct 5!
We’ll keep you posted on upcoming possibilities?
LOVE u all”
By the time The Leadville Bar & Grill had posted the news on social media, word had already spread, the old-fashioned way: by word-of-mouth. Afterall the news was significant as one of Leadville’s major memory-making, lip-smacking institutions announced on its Facebook Page that it will be closing its doors as of October 6, if they do not find a new owner.
While the restaurant has been on-the-market for a couple of years, as life’s priorities shift and time becomes more precious, current owners James Martinez and Linda Duthie are more motivated to sell and made the recent decision to keep the doors closed for good if a viable owner does not come forward before their usual fall break closing.
“It’s still on the market, building and biz separate. Or together, depending on the interested party,” Duthie told Leadville Today last night, Sept 4 at 5:30 p.m. which should help to squelch some of the rampant rumors that have been hitting the streets since the news did on Sunday night. Sounds serious, folks. So you have until October 5 to come and get your green chili and margarita fix before the doors close!
Until then, Leadville Today brings you this story about Leadville’s favorita, mas fina, The Grill! Hasn’t everyone worked there at some point in time?!
Time Served at The Grill
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
“Necessitas guantes, Katalina.”
I wasn’t paying attention, swept up in the experience. It was 1994; and the intoxicating smell of roasting green chilies that floated up to meet the cool, autumn air had my head spinning far above The Cloud City. It was harvest time, and this year, I had been taken into the fold.
Every fall since he opened The Grill in April 1965, Robert Martinez’s garage had become a chili-roasting factory, re-supplying the stock for his famous restaurant. The Mexican music provided the soundtrack, as the festive stage was set: the cooks slowly turned the steel mesh drums over open flames; Robert’s wife Rose made homemade tortillas in the kitchen, and the Coronas chilled in a nearby bucket of ice.
I had ignored Robert’s suggestion of wearing gloves so that my gringa hands wouldn’t burn from the fresh chili juice. I was finally fitting in with los cocineros – the Hispanic cooks – and I wasn’t about to stick out by wearing los guantes. But it didn’t take long. No, it didn’t take long at all, for my fair, freckled fingers to start burning, really burning!
“Guantes, Katalina,” Robert repeated himself, placing the gloves on the table, as he shook his head in regard to my insistent need to impress him. It was my latest attempt to infiltrate my way into this wonderfully different culture!
The Beginning: El Principio
In 1949, Robert Martinez moved to Leadville to work the mine, eventually putting in over 21 years at Climax in the crusher, and as a welder. During that time, Robert married his first wife, Dora and had five children: Robert (Jr.), James (a.k.a. Santiago), John, Kenny, and Beverly.
However by the mid-’60s, the local mining industry was experiencing its first round of down-sizing, and city leaders were scrambling to promote Leadville as a tourist destination. It was a time of change. And Robert Martinez was a part of that, starting The Grill Bar & Cafe in April 1965 with wife Dora, his sister Adelia, and her husband Mateus.
As with most beginnings, The Grill’s was humble, with seating for only 25 people. It was originally established as a bar, with foodservice slowly added over the years. Both families lived on the premises, with Robert’s family setting up living quarters on the south side of the building. After its first year of operation, Robert and Dora bought out their partners and ran the place with the help of their five children.
“I remember pushing a hundred-pound mop, when I was barely 40 pounds myself,” said son James Martinez who now owns and operates the restaurant with his wife Linda Duthie. In those early years, all the kids had chores to do, before and after school; it was Robert’s way of establishing that tough work ethic in his children, one of the essential ingredients to a successful Leadville business recipe.
As the restaurant’s menu grew, so did The Grill’s reputation for delicious, authentic Mexican food. People from around the region made the eatery a must-stop while passing through Leadville. For others, it became an annual migration, especially for Aspenites, who still come by the carload once Independence Pass opens for the summer season on Memorial Day weekend.
And while that famous green chili recipe has remained the same over the past 50 years, other things did change. The family business outgrew the original bar space, eventually turning the former living quarters, into a bigger dining room for their expanding clientele. Along with changes to the business, came more personal shifts. Robert divorced and married a second time, to Rose, who became an intrinsic part of The Grill’s history, carrying on the family-owned business.
It was back in 1993 that I joined the ranks at The Grill for two years as a waitress/bartender/cook. I can clearly recall the first time I served the no-frills patriarch a plate of his own recipes. Placing the enchilada dinner in front of him, he nearly sent me running for the door, as he loudly protested the number of tomatoes I had put on his plate. Here I was trying to impress my boss, instead, I got a five-minute lecture – in Spanish – about the price of tomatoes, and why he wouldn’t be able to keep the doors open if I continued with such extravagances.
Back then, I was challenged by his wife Rose to Friday night waitressing contests, to see who could tally the highest sales. She usually won, watching me run frantically around the dining room, as her years of experience would leave me in the dust, and paying up on our bet.
Robert’s sons John and Kenny, along with daughter Bev were very involved with the restaurant during this time. I can still hear the clank of horseshoes as Robert and Bev practiced in the pits off the back deck. The father/daughter team competed on a regional circuit and generally returned with just as many tournament victories, as well as those famous chilies, from their travels.
While all of Robert’s children took great pride in The Grill, their father’s dream wasn’t always their own; but each contributed to its success. In 1994, Robert passed away after complications from surgery. It was a shock to everyone; he was only 62. His premature death left the family and Leadville community grieving, and The Grill’s future, uncertain.
The Middle: El Medio
Fortunately, in 1996, Robert’s son James and wife Linda Duthie, bought the 41-year-old establishment and continued the family tradition. Under their management, The Grill’s past two decades (plus!) have seen the same hard-working business ethic, along with improvements that ushered the family-run business securely into the 21st century. The original bar had been beautifully restored, computers installed to modernize the ordering and inventory system, and the dining room’s decor is regularly updated, including original artwork from Linda Duthie, who is an accomplished painter.
“We’ve kept up-to-date with modern trends and technology without changing recipes or traditional cooking methods,” said Duthie. In fact, in the back half of the house, not much has changed at all. Everything in the kitchen is still hand-cut and prepared in the “old school,” cultural ways. In contrast, in order to stay competitive, the restaurant’s marketing strategies in the front half of the house, include a website and social media engagement via their Facebook page.
The Grill now seats 100 people, and on a busy weekend night, it’s standing-room-only for the popular Mexican eatery. The menu has many of the items you’d expect for a typical Mexican meal – tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. And for gringos with a fainter palate, it includes some milder dishes, along with vegetarian versions. Today, The Grill uses 10 tons of fresh green chilies every year.
However, it’s The Grill’s famous stuffed sopapillas that keep people coming back for more. You won’t find these beauties on your typical south-of-the-border menu. Most people are familiar with sopapillas as a Mexican dessert – a fry bread, served with honey or covered in powdered sugar. However, at The Grill, they take the sopapillas, stuff all the goodies inside (meat, veggies and those famous green chilies), fry them until crisp and then bake the golden orbs to perfection, topping them off with a hearty ladle of that famous green chili. It’s a dish that literally bubbles up to greet you. But be careful, the plates are hot!
As with all good food, preparation is key. But most don’t seem to mind the wait, passing the time with good conversation, and plenty of award-winning margaritas. Which most nights, are served up by the-one-and-only Miles Duthie, Linda’s son representing the next generation of The Grill’s familia. (Writer’s note: Miles threatened retaliation if he was included – especially with a photo – in this story, so BE SURE to tell him you saw it!)
Today, the restaurant employs about 20 staff members, full and part-time.
“The staff becomes part of our family,” says owner Linda Duthie. “Over the years, we’ve watched as young servers grow up, graduate from high school, go on to college, and come back to work during their Spring and Summer school breaks.” Often times, these dedicated employees return as customers, with their own families. After all, The Grill is the locals’ place to celebrate everything from birthdays to graduations to anniversaries. But then last Sunday came the news – could it be true? Que Lastima (what a pity!).
The End: El Fin
On Sunday, Sept. 1 James-and-Linda made the announcement to their staff regarding their decision to keep the restaurant closed past their standard fall break. In short, if The Grill doesn’t find a new owner by October 5 it will be El Fin, the End of an Era.
“We’re a bit more motivated now,” Linda recently said during a regular Leadville Today news-gathering visit. “We’re going to drop-the-price and see what happens.”
Of course, the response on social media was swift and supportive. While many can’t imagine Leadville without The Grill, most readers understand that as life moves along, priorities shift, and time becomes more precious. The community fully supports the couple’s decision to transition to the next phase of their lives. Yet still . . . there’s not much time left until October 5! Maybe something can come together to keep the recipes, good food, and The Grill alive in Leadville Today. Share and spread the news!
UPDATE: There are already rumors on the street that the restaurant is already under contract. Linda confirmed to LT weds night at 5:30 that,” “It’s still on the market, building, and biz separate. Or together, depending on the interested party.” As everyone knows, these things take time, but the clock is ticking. So stay tuned and don’t believe everything you hear! But for goodness sake, if you can buy it: ¡Ándale, ándale!
The Grill is located at 715 Elm Street in Leadville. You can spot it from US Highway 24 South, by looking for the cactuses painted on the outside of their patio fence. Or just stop and ask; any local would be happy to give you directions for a mere margarita! You can connect via The Grill website, by phone at 719-466-9930 or via their Facebook Page. They are still open Daily at 4 p.m., Closed Tuesdays thru October 5, 2019.
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a media company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and Saguache Today.com. She may be reached at email@example.com