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Bob Kato - Restaurateur, Tavern West

June 25, 2018


An Interview with Bob Kato

Tavern West, Frisco, Colorado

Frisco, Colorado June 2018


How has the restaurant industry changed over the years and what is your outlook on the future of the industry?


The restaurant industry has really evolved in a number of ways from when I first got started. The way people dine, the way they drink, what they like to eat, it's gone 180 degrees from what it was when I first started. People are more cognizant of what they're eating. You're starting to see farm to table, all natural, organic, fresh, locally sourced. I think you're going to start seeing a lot of these creative chefs working with new ingredients and they're going to be really pushing the envelope on fresh, creative dishes. Same thing with cocktails. You're starting to see old world wines, new world wines, wines coming from all around the world.


What makes Tavern West unique?


We have different ways of preparing our meats. We have a real wood-burning grill that we grill all our steaks and seafood on. We grill with apple, cherry and peach wood. We have a french rotisserie that we do Boulder organic natural chickens on. We have a 500-pound smoker that we smoke a lot of our own meats. My managing partner here, Ryan is culinary trained so he's playing with fermented products now. We're constantly trying to figure out different mixed drinks. We go out all the time to the hot new spots around the country and check out what they're doing with cocktails. My wife and I have always been into wines so we really love to try all different wines from all over and find some new, really cool varietals that are coming out now. It's a brave new world as far as restaurants go.


You came to Summit County over 40 years ago to become a ski bum. What do you remember about your first winter in the mountains?


The first year I was up here was actually a horrible year for snow. It was one of the biggest drought years they've ever had up here. This was before snowmaking and so my intentions were to go back to finish up school at CU (University of Colorado Boulder). I felt so cheated after that first year that I said that I wasn't going to let that by my one year up here. So I stayed up here another year and the next season ended up being an epic year. Huge snow year. So after year two I've kind of got entrenched into the restaurant business and school fell out of my road of life.


Why did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant industry?


It was fun. It allowed me to work nothing but nighttimes so it gave me all my days to ski. I could ski all day and go to work and party all night after that.


What would you be doing if you weren’t working in the restaurant industry?


I'd probably be something boring like an accountant. I think I would have eventually found my way into a restaurant one way or another.


What is it about food that is so special to you?


I'm not a meat and potato kind of guy. I love all ethnic foods. Willing to try anything. We just came back from San Francisco and we made a point of doing nothing but Asian formats this time and found some really cool restaurants in San Francisco. Every time we travel, we revolve it around where we're going to eat. That's the only way you can find out. The best is to taste and try.


What is your favorite type of cuisine?


I am partial to Asian and I do love the Japanese format. Their foods are all really clean. It's attractive. They really take a lot of pride in the way they execute their meals. They're perfectionists. Their plates are beautiful. Their food is beautiful. It's as visually pleasing to look at as it is to eat. I would say it's probably my favorite, but I like it all. The thing about the Asian food now is it's probably the hottest format going right now. It's so different. Just in China, there's Cantonese, there's Szechuan. Then you go over to Korea and they've got the Korean barbecue and all the fermented products. You go to Vietnam and they've got the French influence.


Tell me about the inspiration for Tavern West.


Two of my partners-- One's an interior designer so we let Dede do all the interior work. That was her deal and she's done a lot of restaurants. So she did the interior and with Ryan and his culinary background--We let him do the food. My wife and I like to cook a lot, and she is a certified pastry chef, so we chimed in on some of the menu items. It just came to be. I think we hit what we're trying to do at the right time. The millennials right now are conscientious about where their food comes from, what they eat and how they eat. They like these slick restaurants that have some feeling to it. Those are where it's hot. That's who a lot of our diners are now.


What sort of experience are you striving to offer guests at Tavern West?


Fun. We want to be a fun place to come to. We try to not let our menu get stale either. Twice a year we reinvent certain things on our menu. We'll keep some of our staples. For instance, the double bone pork chop that is a Colorado-sourced, all natural. Our shrimp, our smoked ribs. When we go from Summer to winter we change it up with new salads, appetizers.


What has been your greatest professional success?


Being taken by the community. Doing restaurants for 40-something years up here now I think the greatest satisfaction that I've received is being considered one of the community leaders. It's a small town, it's a great town and it's my home. It's the people that kept me here. It's the environment that kept me here. Being a contributor to all that--an employer. Raising my family here. That's the thing I enjoy the most about the restaurant is the fact people love coming to restaurants and if they know the restaurant owner they love that. Being accepted by the community like I have been, has been my greatest satisfaction.


What is the biggest challenge you overcame and learned from?


Labor is the number one challenge. If you had good help, this business wouldn't be that hard. What makes this business hard is the labor pool. The labor pool up here right now is probably the roughest ever. It's very expensive to live here. We don't have the influx of new help coming in. It's the hardest part about doing business and there isn’t even a close second.


What makes you happy?


Eating, drinking (laughs). And just enjoying it. This has been a good business to me. Its hard work, but I've been fortunate enough to make a good living out of it and raise my--I've got a daughter and raise her in this community.


If you could dine with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?

I think Robin Williams would have been a gas to dine with. I would have probably been laughing so hard I would have had wine coming out of my nose. I just loved his personality and his character. I think he would have been a lot of fun to dine out and have a meal with. It would have been a very unforgettable evening.


It’s the last day on earth. What city are you eating in? What dish are you having?

Either San Francisco or New York. I would be eating sushi. Sushi with a nice sake.


Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or your restaurants?


Come and join us here. It's a great spot. We take reservations. Got a beautiful deck in the summertime. It's a great place. One of the locals favorites. You come here and sit at the bar and have dinner and you never know who you're going to be sitting down next to and strike up a conversation with. We've got a lot of local flavor and a lot of locals that come in here all the time.