Evergreens El Rancho restaurant to reopen with help from Frank Bonanno

Three months after creditors foreclosed on El Rancho Brewing Co., the Evergreen landmark is preparing to reopen with the help of some notable Denver restaurateurs.

Commercial real estate developers Jack and Sherry Buchanan of Northstar Ventures and Travis McAfoos of Piedra Peak Properties recently partnered to purchase the famous destination and enlisted Bonanno Concepts to operate the restaurant and brewery.

El Rancho is expected to begin serving food and house-made beer again in January 2023, said Jacqueline Bonanno, creative director of Bonanno Concepts.

The news comes as Bonanno Concepts prepares to close Green Russell and Russell’s Smokehouse, two well-known eateries in Denver’s Larimer Square. While neither is expected to reemerge true to form in Evergreen, Bonanno said the new El Rancho concept will be inspired by the former smokehouse and infused with Latin flavor.

Think “comfort food and celebratory Western fare,” Bonanno said. Her husband, Chef Frank Bonanno, is completely reimagining the menu, so longtime patrons may not see previously popular dishes make a comeback. The restaurant’s aesthetics, however, will remain intact, she said.

The company plans to relocate some of its Denver staff, including Chef Bryan Rosen, to the restaurant in Evergreen and is in the process of hiring an executive chef and a brewer to revive beer-making operations, she added.

El Rancho closed over the summer following a very contentious and public ownership battle. In mid-August, the Colorado Department of Revenue seized the property for failure to pay more than $90,000 in taxes.

McAfoos told The Denver Post he was attracted to the property because of its storied history on the Front Range. Opened in 1948, El Rancho was originally a cafe and trading post, and because of its prominent location on U.S. 40, it became a popular gift shop and post office. In the 1970s, once Interstate 70 was built, the cabin-inspired building functioned as a lodge and conference center. To this day, it maintains its own exit from the highway.

“It’s been part of a number of people’s lives as they venture into the mountains,” said McAfoos, who owns other properties near El Rancho. “Keeping that as part of the fabric of community was important.”

The decision to partner with Bonnano Concepts came down to the company’s reputation, McAfoos said. Bonanno currently operates 10 restaurants in Denver, including Salt & Grinder, Vesper Lounge, and French 75.

“I believe the size of the operation did not intimidate them as it did a handful of operators,” McAfoos said.

When Bonanno considers El Rancho, she sees “this iconic Colorado institution that’s just full of unrealized potential.”

In addition to reimagining the food and beer menus, the Bonannos plan to book live music on weekend nights and during happy hours. Eventually, they’d like to be able to serve El Rancho’s beer at their other restaurants, too.

“The stage is set well to reenergize that property and El Rancho with the leadership of Frank and Jacqueline and their team,” said McAfoos. “We’re excited to be part of that.”

While El Rancho gets back up and running, Northstar Ventures plans to develop a parcel of land across the street to “provide additional community amenities to Evergreen residents, visitors and travelers along the busy I-70 corridor,” according to a statement.

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