Travins and his partners in Concept Restaurants have enjoyed a spate of expansion in the past few years. They've opened Flatiron's American Bar & Grill south of downtown and a second José Muldoon's on Powers Boulevard. The company also includes the Ritz Grill, MacKenzie's Chop House and SouthSide Johnny's.
Indy: How would you describe Colorado Springs' current dining scene? Do you think it's changed over the last five years, or is it pretty static?
LT: Oh, I think it's improved.
Indy: What's an example of that?
LT: I think there's a couple of places on the west side; they're a little more culinary-oriented than some places used to be on the west side. I think you see some more innovative places popping up, just around town in general. Whether they last or not, I think people are giving it a shot.
Indy: I'm curious about your experience with Powers [Boulevard]. How is the other José's doing?
LT: Great. Very happy with that location.
Indy: Why do you think that one's doing well, when other [independents] have had less luck [on Powers]?
LT: Well, it seems to me that most of the restaurants on Powers are thriving. You look at that Texas Roadhouse — it prints money. And then the Rock Bottom Brewery does real well, Fox and Hound I hear is very busy; HuHot [Mongolian Grill] just opened out there, I hear they're off to a good start. So, there's just so many people out there, and it's such a magnet for shopping and dining. There's just a mass of people.
Indy: Is there a certain food or something you'd like to see here that we don't have?
LT: That's a tough question, because I always think of the economics of the town and what's gonna sell. I know a lot of people who really want high, high-end stuff: the Primitivo [a creative and swank downtown restaurant that closed early last decade] experience. And there's not a big market for that, especially in these recession times. Occasionally, I hear upscale Italian in the downtown corridor, people would like that. As far as something where there's a vacancy, I think for what the market will bear, we have it.
Indy: I was talking with Dave Brackett, and he was saying he wishes more independent restaurants would source local produce and meat. And as far as I know, you guys don't do that as much. Do you think the whole concept is overblown or trendy?
LT: It's expensive, and I think that's the biggest deterrent. You know, I think customers really like it — to the point of not wanting to pay for it, though. ... It's tough to have your burger priced 40 percent more than everyone else's. Even though it may have farm-to-table type of produce, and so forth, you get less of that everyday traffic when you go that route.
Indy: Other than your own restaurants, what's your favorite dining spot in the Springs area?
LT: My wife and I like Biaggi's up north — it's kind of like a go-to date spot for us. I think Walter's [Bistro] does a fantastic job. Again, it's pricey — I mean, lamb chops are going to run you 45 bucks. But, like I said, he does a real nice job.
Indy: Do you have any other thoughts on dining, or anything that's been turning around in your head?
LT: Well, I just think times are tough. Even though we expanded and things are going reasonably well, it's still just a real tough environment.
I think the best way to put it, the down days — you know, the Mondays where there's nothing going on — it can be painfully slow. Where the holidays, the weekends are still pretty good — you know, New Year's Eve was a great New Year's Eve, and I think Valentine's, if the weather holds out, will be a great Valentine's. But when there's nothing going on a cold winter night, it's much more desolate downtown, and around town, than it used to be.