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Off Menu with Frank Day

Off Menu with Frank Day


Editor’s note: Frank Day was just inducted into the Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame. Here is our interview from last year with the legendary man himself.

Day shares his restaurant industry wisdom… and some stories from Walt and Hanks.

Frank Day’s impact on dining in Boulder County and throughout Colorado has been notable. You’ve probably dined in at least one of his places. He’s owned everything from a Burger King franchise location to the iconic Old Chicago chain, Rock Bottom Restaurants, and the Denver and Boulder Chophouses.

We can’t name them all, but Day has been around long enough that he’s recently opened a new concept — Boulder Social. It’s at a location he operated as a Jose Muldoon’s, an iconic spot out of business years ago, and then left. After Jose Muldoon’s, a few other people have tried to reopen places at that location and for a number of reasons, they’ve all closed. But it’s more than likely that Day will make it work. In fact, when we drive by during operating hours, we see more cars there now than we’ve seen for a few years.

At 90 years old and still working, Day has developed quite a bit of restaurant industry wisdom. We recently talked with and, with his dogs vying for attention in the background, heard some wonderful stories.

“It’s a people business. It’s 110% all about how people operate. A successful restaurant is a successful team put together,” said Day as we started to talk. “If you keep them growing in one direction, it will keep going.”

Day described the kind of leadership that he’s felt worked well in his businesses. “Southwest Airlines summed it up. They hire people who they feel have the heart of a servant. You can approach a lot of people about this and they cringe, but in restaurants you need people who take pleasure in helping other people get things done. That’s who you need as an employee and as a leader. It’s fairly simple but difficult to execute.”

Photo credit: Deborah Cameron

While Day has run a lot of concepts through the years, we also asked about one of his earliest places, Walt and Hanks, which he bought just after opening The Walrus in Boulder. The question gave him a laugh. “Walt and Hanks. I bought that building at 11th and Pearl in Boulder, and it was a three-two bar with pool tables. We served Coors Banquet. We had jerky and beer nuts. I could talk all day about that place.”

He described the clientele including, in his words, “everyone from retired, alcoholic, hard-core miners who’d be there at 8 or 9 [a.m.] to lesbian pool players and a Native American clientele who showed up later in the day.” Bar incidents were frequent, and whoever was pouring beer often needed to jump over the bar to stop what was happening. Day recalled that bartenders sometimes had to defend themselves with sawed-off pool sticks while calling 911 to break things up. “One evening, I came in, and the green pool tables were no longer green. I said, ‘Enough of this.’” shared Day. Day then developed a new business idea, born just after the decision to close Walt and Hanks. He said, “We closed, but I knew some guys who wanted to have a pinball palace, and I missed Chicago-style pizza from my years there, so we opened Old Chicago.”

We wondered what his thoughts were on how the landscape in Colorado has changed. “There are many more people in Colorado than there used to be,” he said. “The current generation — they’re very conscious of environmental issues. They have very distinct ideas of what they’ll eat, where it comes from. That’s brought something new to the table for restaurant operations who attempt to please everybody.”

We wondered, with bars and really high-quality craft beer being woven through so many of his concepts including Boulder Social — how much of a craft beer fan Day is. We asked, but he said it was really about providing people with what they’re looking for and doing it well. “Whatever you’re selling, if you can make a good product with consistently decent service, you’ll succeed as a business. It’s all a matter of being able to do tomorrow what you did yesterday.”


Deborah Cameron
Deb brings a passion for community journalism and for the local food scene. She started out as an intern and over the years grew into our current Cuisine Editor. She has appeared in multiple publications including the Longmont Leader, The Left Hand Valley Courier, Ms. Mayhem, Finance101, and Ask.com. When not writing she's eating, road tripping, dog-parking, or watching high school softball. She moved to Colorado from Seattle in the early 2000s after spending a year traveling the U.S. in a teal Ford Escort hatchback. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a rescue dog named Charlie.

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