New management cooks up big plans for El Rancho

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Iconic Evergreen restaurant hopes to score big with ‘Colorado comfort cuisine’

By Vicky Gits

A new ownership group has taken over the El Rancho Restaurant and totally revamped the menu and the service side. The owners have added extended happy hours, six more TVs in the bar area and cleaned the carpets twice.

The spacious dining room, which seats 163, now has tablecloths and fabric napkins, but the antler chandeliers, log walls, stone fireplace, rustic charm and western artifacts, such as Kiowa leather chaps, remain unchanged.

A group consisting of Evergreen friends and El Rancho managers Jesse Haubert and Jim Hartwell, plus Mark Johnston of Michigan, took control of the restaurant over the Fourth of July weekend. The El Rancho Restaurant has been an Evergreen landmark at I-70’s Evergreen Parkway exit for 60 years.

"The goal is the dining room should be more intimate and less like a cafeteria," Haubert said. "We want to be the destination restaurant that El Rancho used to be."

There are plans to expand the bar area to include the former, now deserted, western gift shop and bring in live music on a regular basis. The restaurant also offers banquet and catering service.

In the meantime, the emphasis is on the food quality. The new chef, Brant Andrews, has experience as the chef at Elway's Restaurant in Cherry Creek and Prime 121, a popular Cherry Creek steakhouse.

"Everything tastes fresh. Everything is fresh," said Haubert, 37, the longtime employee-turned-owner, in between waiting on customers and answering the phones. Haubert said he has done about every job in the restaurant, including being the cook. He started as a waiter at age 22.

He is looking forward to luring back the local clientele. "We want to be a part of the Evergreen community," he said.

Since bringing Andrews on board, restaurant sales have greatly improved, Haubert said. "The shrimp and grits is phenomenal," he points out. Haubert describes the food as "Colorado comfort cuisine."

The menu is centered on standard items with gourmet touches like Colorado Elk Medallions, Chicken Fried Steak, Grilled Buffalo Flank Steak, and Maple Bourbon Glazed Colorado Trout. The entrees come with side dishes of beans, squash, wild rice and mashed potatoes.

The prices range from $13 for fish and chips to $27 for Colorado rack of lamb. The extensive menu includes a long list of appetizers, children's dishes, sandwiches, soup and salads, and pizza.

Haubert grew up in Evergreen, graduated from Evergreen High School, and he studied business and accounting at the University of Kansas and University of Colorado.

His partner, Hartwell, is a retired BLM geologist who has lived in Evergreen since 1991. He started working as a part-time manager three years ago and then decided he wanted to buy the place and own it with Haubert. They joined forces with Mark Johnston, a Michigan man who has ties to Evergreen.

"I just felt this restaurant can do much more than it has in the past from the standpoint of community things. We want to be part of Evergreen. It used to be involved many years ago, and it needs to be again," Hartwell said.

"The new chef is preparing some amazing things. It's better than good. It's worth eating," Hartwell said.

El Rancho is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Open for brunch on Sunday, 9 to noon, plus lunch and dinner until 10 p.m. Phone 303-526-2300.

The restaurant's website is at www.HistoricElRancho.com.

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.