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Marty Caivano

Brian Collins, lunch chef at The Kitchen in Boulder, prepares a plate during the restaurant's busy noon hour.


The Kitchen's moving up

Pearl Street restaurant expands into space upstairs

By Karen Mitchell, For the Camera
March 20, 2005

For Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson, 30-something chef/owners of the booming downtown Boulder bistro, The Kitchen, there's only one way to go and that would be up.

The duo are preparing to open a second-story addition to their year-old restaurant this summer, doubling its floor size to 5,000 square feet, and adding 40 seats to the main floor's 80. The address, 1039 Pearl St., was the longtime home of Stage House Books & Prints, and later, of Triana restaurant on the first floor.

Known for its plethora of organic ingredients, much of it from local growers, The Kitchen is a high-end community-oriented eatery specializing in rustic Italian and French cuisines. It was tapped as one of Gourmet magazine's Best New Restaurants for 2004.

Musk and Matheson took over the Triana lease and renovated the downstairs space with a $700,000 out-of-pocket investment. The cost of the new addition, with a lease taken over from Stage House, will be about $500,000.

The new lounge-like upstairs will feature selections from a $100,000, 3,000-bottle wine cellar, pastries, and "shared plates" such as appetizers and other offerings from a wood-burning oven ideal for roasting vegetables, fish and chicken.

"This was the logical next step for us as we needed more kitchen space. Making a living with one space is hard; you have to look at ways of expanding," says Matheson, who grew up in London and the English countryside, and cooked at London's famed River Café. A graduate of the Denver Institute of Art, he also designed the restaurant, downstairs and up, with Musk's wife, artist Jen Lewin.

"We're believers in timelessness with a modern twist, rather than trends," Matheson says, referring to The Kitchen's basic design elements — stone, paneling and brick. "Our food is not complicated either, it's just good, simple food. In essence, we use what's in season, and our customers respond to that."

Two popular community tables, similar to one downstairs, will serve groups of up to 14, as well as single diners who can mingle and chat with others at the large table. Open seven days a week, The Kitchen has built a solid following of local devotees who breakfast over business meetings, take advantage of free WiFi, and line the stylish bar at sunset, joining out-of-towners waiting for tables.

The average tab of $50 for a three-course dinner with wine doesn't faze his patrons, Musk says.

"It's amazing to me that some customers eat here four to five times per week," he says. "Hugo and I wanted the kind of place where we would eat three times a day, so that's the ultimate compliment."

The Kitchen's cachet is a blend of ambiance, service and fine fare, says David Cohen, owner of Spruce Confections and longtime Boulder entrepreneur.

"My wife and I employ a baby-sitter one night a week for the sole purpose of eating there," he says. "They're accommodating to dietary requests, and the portion sizes are perfect so you feel good after you leave."

The exposed kitchen and high ceiling enhance the experience, he says. "The cutout window to the kitchen, framed in stainless steel trim, looks like a plasma TV screen. Hugo and Kimbal are usually in there cooking, so you can tell there's somebody in the driver's seat who knows about the food."

Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Musk imbibed the restaurant business from his father's steakhouse before heading first to business school at Canada's Queen's University, and then on to Silicon Valley where he founded Zip2, an online mapping technology company sold to Compaq in 1999.

Musk and his brother, Elon, sold Zip2 for $307 million, according to media reports including USA Today and Forbes.com. Elon Musk also cofounded PayPal, which eBay acquired for $1.5 billion in 2002.

"I moved to New York in 2001, enrolled at the French Culinary Institute under (renowned chefs) Andre Soltner and Jacques Torres, and did a stage (internship) at several upscale establishments including Bouley. But what I loved about New York were the small restaurants, attracting talented chefs and designed for the locals. I knew I wanted to open a bistro that was tied to the community, working with its farmers."

Musk and his wife, who holds an master of fine arts from New York University and an architecture degree from the University of Colorado, moved to Boulder in June 2002 to pursue his restaurant dream.

"Boulder is the ideal site for The Kitchen," Musk says. "It's a pedestrian-friendly town which is not geared solely to tourists like Aspen or Jackson Hole."

A week after their arrival, they were walking their dog, Manhattan, when the black lab led them to a pair of strangers sitting at an outdoor table at Spruce Confections on Pearl Street. One of the strangers was Matheson, who wanted to get back into the restaurant business.

"Hugo invited us over for dinner and he cooked char-grilled fish with aubergine, served with a salsa verde," Musk recalls. "We opened The Kitchen 18 months later with a fund-raiser for ALS." (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.)

The bistro, now serving some 2,000 customers a week, immediately exceeded its owners' optimistic expectations.

"Nothing is easy about doing any business, but the restaurant presents a unique creative challenge, that of sitting down each day to write a new menu, and cooking the food for the waiters before dinner so they know what they're serving," Musk says. "It takes energy, but doing it makes you more energized."

The Kitchen's fiercest competition, he says, is itself. "The high-end dining scene in Boulder/Denver is still young. It has a long way to go."

His biggest challenge, Musk says, is being able to afford good staff. The current roster includes manager and Boulder native Adam Reed, and sommelier Karim Boulet, a Parisian who will be wine director for the new cellar.

"We only hire those who love what they do," Musk says. "We push them hard but they're surrounded by people who push each other. We're aggressively hiring extremely talented people. Our goal is to make this a landmark restaurant — Boulder has a big appetite for it."

The restaurant posts a sample of its menus at www.thekitchencafe.com.

 
 

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