- Erin Callahan
- Turu, left, and Michelle Marx cater to all diners, not just the food-sensitive.
A first-time customer approaches the counter at Coquette’s Bistro & Bakery, a hint of incredulity in her voice when she asks, “Is everything gluten free?”
“All of it,” Michelle Marx, one half of the restaurant’s mother-daughter owner team, answers, “Every bit.”
Michelle and her daughter, Turu Marx, have answered that question on a near-daily basis since opening the 100 percent gluten-free restaurant 10 years ago, but they never grow tired of the gratitude that usually follows.
“We just have a lot of people with intolerances for multiple things, and they know we care and try to cater the best we can,” Turu says. “They know we’re going to do our best to make sure they get the experience they’re looking for.
“We do a service for people,” she adds. “It’s not been an easy road, but it’s definitely been worth it.”
In 2009, when the Marx women were looking to open a crêperie in a 750-square-foot space in Manitou Springs, the term “gluten free” was only uttered in hushed tones on the culinary circuit. But a recent illness meant gluten products were out of the question for Michelle, which complicated the process of cultivating a menu.
The women quickly realized they had filled a void most in the community hadn’t even known existed. Ten years and two locations later, customers now drive from all over Colorado — and often beyond — to visit the sprawling 6,700-square-foot building at 616 S. Tejon St. The latest location — a deteriorating, vacant eye clinic that the Marxes renovated — maintains a cozy, tucked-away ambiance despite its proximity to the city’s bustling downtown streets. But calming vibes aside, customers with specific dietary needs are typically overjoyed to have their pick of anything on the menu, rather than the pared-down selection of gluten-free products offered at other establishments.
“The basis of what makes [Coquette’s] so popular is, we said, ‘You know, let’s normalize this,’ because if you have a gluten problem and you’re with family members who don’t, they don’t want to hear ‘gluten free,’” Michelle says. “So we said, ‘Let’s have a varied menu — not just a piece of chicken and a salad.’
“I think it’s an important point that we are really not just gluten-free people,” she adds. “We’re just a really good restaurant, and we’re gluten free and allergen sensitive.”
Coquette’s also has expanded its services since moving to the South Tejon location two years ago, adding a retail section where customers can purchase their own ingredients such as 2-pound bags of gluten-free flour, and two rooms that can be rented out for business meetings or social gatherings.
That practice of tracking their customers’ evolving needs is what has kept Coquette’s afloat for the last decade, she says.
Not a day goes by that Michelle and Turu don’t field customer requests to open a restaurant in other parts of the state — or even the country. While they haven’t ruled out establishing a smaller footprint in Boulder or Denver, hopefully leading to the licensing of their products, Coquette’s is here to stay on South Tejon Street.
“We bought this building, and we transformed it when nothing was going on around us. It was pretty dead over here,” Michelle says. “And now we are in the middle of a huge growth spurt for this neighborhood. We feel it’s important to be an anchor for that.”