Recently, west word published an op-ed by John Rodriguez in response to the opening of our Fuel & Iron Bar in Denver, “For the real town, drive south to the real town.” As co-owner of Fuel & Iron Bar, he couldn’t agree more with this headline. In fact, the main purpose of our bar is to give people a taste of Pueblo-inspired food and drinks (many from Pueblo producers) to highlight the incredible character of Pueblo and encourage people to visit. If you doubt the sincerity of this premise, consider the investments we are making in the Pueblo community:
• When it opens this fall, Fuel & Iron Food Hall, located in the historic Holmes Hardware Building in downtown Pueblo, will serve as an incubator and launch pad for chefs who want to start their own physical restaurants in Pueblo. The five chefs/restaurantees who have joined the project are from Pueblo or already have a significant presence in the community.
• Fuel Farm, an urban farm and greenhouse that will launch a farmers’ market and agricultural delivery program to create greater opportunities for Pueblo County farmers.
• Fuel Kitchens, an incubator commissary kitchen that will help Pueblo entrepreneurs grow packaged goods businesses, as well as support food trucks, caterers and other mobile food businesses that need a place to prepare.
• Fifty-two worker housing units, 28 of them on the upper floors of the Holmes Hardware Building and 24 on an adjacent parcel built by indieDwell, a modular home builder with a factory in downtown Pueblo.
• A child care center at the Pueblo Riverwalk, the first child care center in downtown Pueblo, which will serve dining room employees, apartment residents, and other downtown workers and residents.
• An apprenticeship program with a focus on restaurant ownership, agriculture, and packaged goods, which will bring culinary education back to Pueblo in light of the impending closure of Pueblo Community College’s Culinary Arts program.
In total, these projects represent an investment of more than $20 million in downtown Pueblo, which will directly support Pueblo residents in starting and growing their own businesses in the food and beverage industry. The size of these investments often dwarfs the initial capital invested in our Denver bar. Making these significant investments and then trying to recreate the experience as a drill in Denver, deterring visitors from Pueblo, would not only be incredibly counterproductive, but financially ruinous given that co-owner Zach Cytryn and I have and will continue to personally guarantee the loans we support these investments. We hope that the bar and the conversations it generates (including the opinion piece) will serve to drive more traffic to Pueblo.
The only part of the op-ed that we disagree with is the premise that Pueblo has experienced “five decades of stagnation” and has “ineffective leadership.” While Pueblo lags behind the rest of Colorado in some areas, the Pueblo we know is a vibrant, ambitious, and entrepreneurial community that continues to make great strides. Just a few examples:
• Pueblo brands such as Solar Roast Coffee, Walter Brewing Company, Springside Cheese, Jojo’s Sriracha and Formulary 55 are growing and being distributed across the country. Not to mention Snooze Mattress Co., Pueblo’s first national franchise.
• Arts organizations like Blo Back Gallery, Artisan Textile Company, The Ethos, and Colorado Arts and Artists are making Pueblo a hub for the maker and artist community. Plus, Analogue Books & Records, an amazing book and record store downtown.
• New restaurants like Brues Alehouse Brewing Co., Dee Tacko, Bingo Burger, Bistoro, Ruby’s and Blackbox Provisions add to Pueblo’s already formidable dining scene.
• Technological innovations from the grand scale (such as a new hyperloop test facility or the world’s first solar-powered steel plant) to the everyday (such as ActivArmor, a custom 3D-printed plaster company; or TankMatez Innovative Aquatic Products, which simplifies aquarium hobby). maintenance) are expanding Pueblo’s tech industry.
• Civic attractions like the Pueblo Riverwalk, the newly expanded Pueblo Convention Center, the Rawlings Library (the world’s largest library, fight me on this), and the Pueblo Levee Trail continue to make Pueblo a great place to spend time.
Whether we are the correct messengers of the greatness of Pueblo is certainly a matter of debate. We are not from Pueblo and therefore arguably do not deserve to build a brand that honors their heritage. That’s why we’re trying to bring Puebloans into our project whenever possible, including our Culinary and Education Director, Mo Montgomery, who designed the food menu at our Denver bar; an advisory board of Pueblo natives living in Denver; approximately 100 of our investors; our muralist, former director of the Pueblo Arts Alliance, Dan Levinson; and the twelve local Pueblo County growers who supply a significant portion of our ingredients, including Gagliano’s Italian Market & Deli and Milberger Farms.
The feedback we’ve received from Pueblo residents and expats living in Denver has been overwhelmingly positive, encouraging us to keep going. We certainly hope that the work we are doing will serve to support rather than supplant those who have been building Pueblo for generations. To do otherwise would be a huge failure.
In summary, we would like to quote directly from John Rodriguez’s op-ed: “I’m not saying you shouldn’t patronize Fuel & Iron. Sponsor? Yes. But if you crave authenticity and the real Pueblo, drive to Pueblo.” As you drive by, you will find a charming, vibrant, multi-cultural city that we are proud to be a part of.
Nathan Stern is a commercial real estate broker and developer specializing in local, independent food and beverage. He is co-founder of the Fuel & Iron project. He knows more at fuelandironpueblo.com.
westword.com frequently publishes opinion pieces and essays on matters of interest to the community; Opinions are those of the authors, not west word. Have one you’d like to send? send to [email protected]where you can also comment on this piece.