Randall has weathered gentrification and health troubles but still stands strong as a fixture of the community.
Randall Borne is a sturdy guy. He opens the door and walks into the restaurant with a steady gait in spite of the cane gripped in his hand. He says hi to me, gets everything together, then heads off to talk to everyone and take care of business before the interview starts. He may be getting older, and he may have had a stroke about a year and a half ago, but as he bustles around the restaurant, he seems to have more energy than people half his age do on a good day.
Borne is the owner of the aptly named Randall’s, a restaurant and bar snugly nestled in Denver’s bustling RINO neighborhood. Driving in, I headed past decrepit industrial buildings drenched in graffiti and disuse, before going down a couple of blocks and being greeted with a quaint, neat little residential neighborhood, with squat brown brick houses baking in the early spring sun. This neighborhood looks nice, but it’s a place of great contrast. Some of the houses are gorgeously maintained, with neat lawns and fences so new the lacquer is still fresh. Some of the homes, however, look a lot worse for wear, with junk crowding backyards and weeds peeking out through chain link fences. Randall’s is perched in the middle of this mosaic. Driving through the quaint little houses, you eventually turn a corner to a small area with a couple of businesses. Randall’s, with a parking lot and an unassuming storefront, sits next to a Mexican restaurant. There’s no fancy logos or flashing neon signs. Around the corner is an elegant pizza place, with a simple logo carved in rough, burnished metal, and fairy lights strung along a wooden banister. Across the street is a liquor store with a mural of Spiderman and a gaggle of people sitting in plastic chairs and taking in the day. As I sat around, a homeless man walked up to them and was quickly chased away with a broom and quick bursts of profanity.
This is a neighborhood of strong contrasts, and yet Randall’s has remained, nigh unchanging, for eighteen years. It serves as a strong, steady bulwark against the waves of gentrification lapping on these brown brick shores. Borne himself seems to be much the same. He moves slowly, deliberately, insisting on sitting in a tall corner booth in spite of his cane. It’s obvious from the start that he’s built something special with himself as the foundation. Everyone in the place knows him, says hi to him, waves goodbye as they head out the door. He stops for a moment to exchange some crisp twenty dollar bills with a man who has stopped in. Borne is a pillar, standing steadfast and integral in spite of his recent health issues.
Randall’s is a place rich with life and history. Even the walls have something to say. Looking at the rightmost wall, there is a massive mural of Louis Armstrong, an iconic picture of him playing on the trumpet highlighted with an electric blue background. This piece has a story, one Borne happily recalls. The painter didn’t show up. It was painted by a student from a local high school. The student was recommended by the principal, a friend of Borne’s. Borne noted that the student even painted a reflection on the trumpet’s lip that reflects the restaurant’s front door.
Randall’s started eighteen years ago, in the very same neighborhood in which it still resides. Before that, Randall operated a food truck for eleven years, and he proudly recalls that a lot of his current customers got to know him way back then. Even before the truck he cooked food for his coworkers, becoming well known for his contributions to company potlucks. Before that he spent five years in this neighborhood going to school right down the street at Manuel High.
He was not, however, born here. Randall was born in New Orleans, one of sixteen children, but went to Denver for high school before heading back to Louisiana for college. Borne has stayed in Denver for almost his whole life, nestled in the small neighborhood where he still sells a lot of the same food he did back when he had a food truck and cooked for company potlucks. In a neighborhood that’s changing more and more rapidly with time, Randall Borne and his restaurant have served as a place of solid footing.
However, things are getting shakier. A year and a half ago, Randall had a stroke. He has been struggling to pay bills and stay afloat. Not only that, he reopened his restaurant at its current location right as Covid hit. He struggled to keep business going over the months of closure and lockdown, and has just now been getting back into the groove of things. Randall notes that, even though things have been getting back to normal, he’s still struggling a bit with his health. He’s fifty-seven years old, and his difficulties recovering from the stroke have made everything a lot harder. He jokes that he would be back at 100% if he did everything his doctors told him to do, but that hasn’t been the case.
In spite of this, Randall’s status as a community bedrock has made things easier. After the stroke he started crowdfunding and so far has managed to gather thousands of dollars from concerned citizens and organizations like the news station Denver 7. Brother Jeff’s a community center in RINO also pitched in, bringing in Randall for an interview for a video on Brother Jeff’s Facebook page. Brother Jeff made a point of highlighting the importance of Randall’s, and urged viewers to donate if they could. Despite this, Borne notes that he has never been the type to ask people for help, and was incredibly reticent to even begin to reach out. And yet, he has seen more help from the community than he ever thought possible.
Though community crowdfunding helped, Borne said that during Covid he reached out to the government looking for pandemic assistance. The government claimed that they had funds set aside to help support minority-led businesses and yet, according to Borne, he saw almost none of it. At a time when he was struggling, he reached out for help and got nothing. When asked about this he seems understandably cynical, noting that he doesn’t expect much help from the government anymore. Though the people of Denver have done a lot to lift him and his business back to solid ground, other businesses undoubtedly haven’t been so lucky. If Borne had never reached out for help, it’s unclear if Randall’s would still be around.
That, however, is a problem for another day. For now, Borne is confident that both he and Randall’s will stick around for as long as they can. He says that he plans to keep the restaurant running, “as long as my body holds up.” Though it is his only source of income, he is also clearly committed to what Randall’s provides to the community. He says that he likes providing a space where things are quiet and calm, a space where people can talk and listen to gentle music. A tranquil island in a shifting sea of gentrification, high rents and brutal heat.