Destination Dining: The Evolution of Bin 707
Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of SPOKE+BLOSSOM
In 2011, farm-to-table wasn’t a thing. The Grand Valley, still slow to recover from the recession, was a tourism destination that hadn’t realized it yet. After trying to find the perfect destination to open our concept, we decided that the Grand Valley had everything we needed: an abundance of produce, access to ranchers, a couple of breweries, a distillery. Our concept was simple: “Local, Colorado and Domestically-sourced Seasonal American Cuisine.” I was naïve to think that “simple” ethos was all we needed tostart a restaurant.
By 2014, local sourcing had become a thing. Farm-to-table, the style of minimal intervention of produce cooking by sourcing without a distributer, had turned into a catchphrase all too often thrown into a conversation. Tourism in the Grand Valley was growing as outdoor recreation enthusiasts discovered the #WestSlopeBestSlope. Jared Leto (just after winning an Oscar) took to the Nerdist podcast to describe his experience at Bin 707 Foodbar as “the best meal of his life,” and in only a few short years, our little restaurant went from a model designed to feed 150 guests a day to over 500.
We never expected our little, locally-sourced passion project to turn into what it has. Its journey, like all independent restaurants, is constantly changing. Bin 707 Foodbar sees food deliveries six days a week. Every invoice, price and yield of product brought in changes daily. We serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, and feature more than 50 wines and beers in a full bar with some of the rarest bottles legally for sale in Colorado. We have employed about 50 people year-round since our original location opened 10 years ago.
Our minimum wage increases are transforming the industry as quickly as record-low unemployment creates a need for skilled employees county, state and country-wide. Our prospering cannabis industry in Colorado and the rise of ride sharing industries have created a demand for a workforce that didn’t exist even five years ago and was mostly filled with candidates from the hospitality sector.
Finally, and most importantly in this case, the cost of food rises daily. Meanwhile, our mission has always been a commitment to source the most sustainable and best products available. These are the same products used at the most expensive restaurants in Aspen, Denver, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Yet, our menu pricing, comparatively, doesn’t reflect it.
In 2011, we designed a lively-feeling restaurant: small tables, a color palette of copper, wood, yellows and reds. Fast-tempo music. Mismatched stoneware. Deliberately uncomfortable seating. We designed for high- volume, as we don’t have enough seats to pay the bills if we couldn’t turn them all one time. I decided that I would rather lose guests because the restaurant was too loud than to lose them because it wasn’t loud enough, and that thought has guided the decisions we’ve made throughout the years.
Those concepts and ideas worked, but through the years, our labor costs continued to climb. Our food costs continued to climb. And our talents also continued to climb! At some point, the food began to excel past the wines we offered. The small tables were too small and we could seat only four people at most, creating waitlists of more than an hour every day of the week. The crowds and the busy ambiance of the restaurant began to backfire, and all of a sudden our guests were feeling rushed, our price per person dropped, our profits dropped, and I expected to see our margins diminish to zero as our costs continued to rise, all while having a line out the door.
We temporarily closed Bin 707 Foodbar during the first week of January 2019. We remodeled our dining room and changed ourmenus — not just with new dishes, but with an entirely new framework on which the menu is built. All of the plates are new. The wine program is new. The cocktail list is new. The uniforms are new. Even the music playlist and sound system are new. We designed and custom-built tables that can seat more guests per table while being far more conducive to sharing dishes. We added photography and artwork and additional climate-controlled wine storage. Finally, we rebuilt a space we want to work in as well as frequent. The redesign is more efficient and flexible. It’s calmer, and the food is better. We can take greater liberties and risks with our menus now that old-school French techniques are no longer the basis for our sauces and stocks. We have an expansion plan for our wine and cocktail programs, hopefully adding a sommelier/beverage director in the coming months to double down on the level of service we are able to provide daily.
We are a small restaurant with a foundation built upon our locally-sourced ethos. We, like all of our counterparts, are always evolving just to stay afloat. The new Bin, one with flexible and more comfortable seating options, cooler tones, slower-tempo music and some riskier, more experimental cooking, in a way, actually renews our commitment of constant evolution. We have always been and will always be a chef-driven, locally-sourced, seasonal American restaurant.
In 2019, Bin has evolved from an unknown new spot with a weird name and cursed location into both a destination restaurant helping to promote tourism and a local staple. We are a “Good Food 100” restaurant, a leader in the James Beard Smart Catch initiative and a member of the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance. Our menus would resonate in any big city, yet all provide a sense of place that is definitively western Colorado. We, like every one of our counterparts, make these adjustments every single day. But unlike most, we are lucky to have the advantage of making our home Colorado’s fertile Grand Valley. Our evolution mimics that of our community and is the backbone of the hashtag #thenewwest.