Lost in Transcription
Holy loads of pressure.
I have avoided writing about Cowboy Star- save for a blurb here and there- for nearly 10 years now. So naturally, that’s what I chose to write about for my last column via DiscoverSD. Because I hate myself, apparently.
Faced with the longest transcription in the history of my career (appropriate for an article 3x the size of mine) and loads of quote gold, I pretty much over-thought myself into the fetal position writing this final piece, after an epic lunch meeting and interview at Cowboy Star with owners Jon and Angie Weber, and Executive Chef/owner, Victor Jimenez.
There are some subjects that are greater than words can describe; the East Village itself bears a huge significance for me, because it’s where I “grew up” as a writer, undoubtedly inspired by the can-do, will-do, strength-in-the-face-of-adversity sort of spirit that permeated the area, particularly from ’07-’12. As someone who didn’t go to journalism school, and was struggling to remain true to myself, I found major inspiration in this tumultuous part of town and the people and businesses there who were dedicated to keeping it real. Having an unwavering identity, and vision, are key ingredients to success; at least that’s my takeaway from admiring the movers and shakers of the East Village over the past decade.
While my article and interview focus on the founding team of Cowboy Star, for all of the above reasons, I gathered up quotes I wasn’t able to use from my long-ass interview about the team and operation as a whole, because (in case you need to get hit over the head with it) there’s just too much to love about Cowboy Star than could ever fit in the paper.
Enjoy these tasty tidbits from my interview with the founding team of Cowboy Star and be sure to get in there, if it isn’t your favorite already. 🙂
Over and out,
On the bar crowd:
“Still to this day, come in on any given Thursday and everyone knows each other at the bar,” Angie said.
“And one of the weird things that turned out, is that we have no TVs,” Jon said. “When I first started thinking about it, I thought yes, it’s a neighborhood with a ballpark, so people are gonna sit at the bar and want to watch games. But we asked the bartenders, what do you want? And they all said no, we want to interact with our guests… We have locals that met at the bar and have lunch clubs now and even travel with each other. But then we have plenty of people who come in and leave when they don’t see a TV, too.”
“But our neighbors have 75!” Added Angie about East Village Tavern and Bowl, also saying how supportive everyone in the neighborhood is of one another.
On being a “steakhouse”:
“We still laugh about it. When we opened our concept was conctemporary American cuisine. But then we started wining best steak house awards, and kept winning them, so we thought, ok, I guess we’re a steakhouse… So we started offering those two different experiences at once,” chef Victor described. “If you want to be out of your comfort zone, explore. If you a nice piece of meat cooked really well to make you feel comfortable, we do that really well, too.”
“We have 2 menus in one,” Victor continued. “One side is the chefs composition, and then the staples. We saw this progression of kids going to culinary school and having the open kitchen, and we always wanted to showcase our local talent so we aren’t labeled just another steakhouse.”
“Since day one, we never meant to be a steakhouse but we became known as that for our quality of meat. But at the same time we never neglected our vegetarian friends. So people would tell me, I want to come there but I’m vegetarian… and we’d say no—please come! We’d tell the kitchen, we’ve got a vegetarian in the house—let’s blow them away! Challenge accepted.”
Note: Beginning Jan. 25, Cowboy Star is kicking off a new series to prove just that with A Vegetable Affair: Cheat on Meat.
On evolving the brand:
He continued: “Fast forward to 2-3 years ago, and we were lucky enough to find [chef de cuisine] Chris [Osborne] who came in with another style. And his artistic point of view has helped us continue to evolve in small steps.”
“Without compromising your ambition and who you are you, you need to push the envelope and embrace what’s coming so you aren’t left behind. And so now you have Chris putting his print into our chefs composition menu, and you’ll see more of that California modern influence, with underlying Japanese fusion.”
“Chris worked under Trey [Foshee] at George’s. So when I spoke with Trey, and he spoke very highly of him; we knew that chris had reached ceiling in that kitchen. So at that point, we were needing to leave someone here that could maintain the quality and consistency, and develop new ideas… So that’s where Chris comes in.” Victor explained of opening a second location in Colorado Springs a year ago, and how his team has maintained excellence at both restaurants.
“We’ve taken heat for not doing to go,” said Jon.”When we first opened and someone would get a steak, then call two hours later to complain it was medium instead of medium rare—when they drove 45 mins home with it and it continued cooking in a closed box… so much of what we do with is presentation based and so much of that was taken away from us when we were doing to go. We lost all control. Its like, just come in and experience us.”
Jon continued: “And I think that’s the main thing. What sets us apart is the service. If you’re at the bar with Garth and Doug they’re very professional, and its an experience… Hard to pack that into a box.”
“We do what we do and we put our heads down. We’re not trend setters, so we don’t jump into—it’s farm to table time now! When people discover what we do, it’s just like, this is what we’ve always done, since day one,” said chef Victor.
“It’s easy to get caught up in buzz words when you’re trying to promote something. But if you rely too much on those things, they’re just here and gone,” said Angie.
“We have been very lucky with our crew, and provided with a lot of the tools we need. And I think we have talked enough times about what the vision means to all three of us and put together a good training manual… and it’s continued to develop. And it’s very rare in the restaurant to retain people for 8 years, and that’s amazing… but the people in the neighborhood are comfortable- they know what they want- and we’re here with their whisky sour, or whatever… I think this [service] is what separates us from the rest,” said chef Victor.