When you mention The Rio Grande when in Colorado, it is synonymous with an energetic atmosphere and killer margaritas. After all, you’re limited to three, they’re so potent.
The Rio was founded on quality Tex-Mex food, from three guys who landed in Colorado and had a vision for the hearty food they grew up with in Texas.
Food Campaign 2012:
What people may overlook is that The Rio’s popularity has spread to six locations around Colorado and they are a restaurant rooted in good food, not just a bar. Admittedly, I happy hour at The Rio and frequent the Boulder rooftop in the Summer for ample amount of margs, salsa and chips – not dinner.
Looking to understand this shift in customer’s minds – they’ve been open since 1986 – CEO Jason Barrett, took a look at peer review sites like Yelp and OpenTable and noted that the drinks and atmosphere were voted as outstanding, but the food didn’t receive the same reviews.
I love that they listened. Many business owners bristle at Yelp and the “bashing” and filtering that can often be thought of as not constructive, however, with customers as your life-blood the team at The Rio listened and acted.
The entire staff of every restaurant went through a boot-camp like training (Barrett has a Marine Corps background) they like to call a Food Campaign for 2012. They tightened procedures, purchased new equipment, hired new personnel, heightened the expectations, updated ingredients and even hired new vendors, some of which are local.
From Scratch Food:
Rob Trenz, General Manager at The Rio Boulder – who has been with The Rio for 25 years since the beginning days – stresses that they’ve always been a from-scratch kitchen.
He sits and talks to me, while he peels by hand one of their in-house roasted chile peppers for their spicy, yet creamily soft, chile relleno dish (above).
They plan to educate their customers about what they’ve always been about, but may not be as known for. This includes: everyday each of those chiles are roasted and peeled by hand, the salsa and tortillas are made from scratch (they make and hand press 1000 tortillas everyday), their fresh steak comes from Rocky Mountain Angus Beef, they cut and scoop 1500 fresh avocados weekly for their guacamole, they cut and peel whole pineapples and grill them individually for tacos and their beans, onions and corn tortillas come straight from local Colorado purveyors.
Tequila Shrimp Taco, Rio Slaw, Avocado Crema | Pan-Seared Mahi Taco, Rio Slaw, Mango Salsa, Five-Pepper Crema | Braised Pork Taco, Tampico Salsa, Rio Slaw, Grilled Pineapple
To round up this news, when I tasted their new tacos and shared with friends, they noted the taste difference. I was impressed to learn of their from-scratch style and appreciated their ability to be agile, adjust to their customers and continue with an environment that locals and tourists undoubtedly love.
After the changes and learning the soul and vision behind The Rio and their team, I felt closer to the comfort food and liked what I was tasting. They keep it simple and true. Next time you visit The Rio, let me know what you think. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you have any qualms, Jason, their CEO personally answers every email he receives and is open to your feedback. Can’t beat that.
Locations: Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Lone Tree, Steamboat
I recently sat down with The Rio Boulder team and Rio CEO, Jason to taste some of their dishes and learn more about their program. Thanks to them for sharing and letting me taste and sip. All opinions as always, are my own.