Staff members of Denver’s Brutø, a Mexican restaurant in between McGregor Square and Union Station, began shuffling into work to prepare for dinner service around noon on Wednesday.
Although the tasks seemed typically mundane — juicing limes, setting plates, organizing the kitchen — the atmosphere was not. The air was buzzing with excitement.
And a couple clues in the room explained exactly why.
On the coat rack, two pristine, white chef’s jackets were hanging. And stitched on the jackets were shapes that resemble a red six-leaf clover. To those in the industry, those were the unmistakable marks of a Michelin Star.
Just the night before, Brutø and its staff were awarded the prestigious award, considered one of the restaurant industry’s greatest achievements. It’s the first time Michelin has published their guide in Colorado. Brutø was also awarded a Michelin Green Star, which recognizes their commitment to environmental sustainability in the food industry.
As his staff prepped, Michael Diaz de Leon, Brutø’s executive chef, pulled out his phone to reply to dozens of congratulatory messages.
He also checked their reservation books. Normally, they get 20 to 30 future reservations a day. But the day after winning a Michelin Star is far from typical.
“We’re at 259 covers booked just today,” Diaz de Leon said. “I need to look at it, but definitely [booked through] the rest of September and probably all of October. And then we haven’t released reservations for November, December. So I’m assuming that as soon as those go live, those will book out.”
For Diaz de Leon, a first generation Mexican American, the Michelin Star has been the culmination of years of hard work. He attributed his love of cooking to his childhood.
“We were very poor. We lived in Denver for a long time, lived in El Paso, always just very humbling small apartments. But food was always around, and I think for me, it was super important,” he said. “It was super important growing up, knowing that food created community, and it created a seat at the table.”
Wednesday night dinner will be special to both Brutø’s customers and its staff. It’ll be their first as Michelin Star winners. Diaz de Leon plans to ride that energy as long as possible.
“I’m going to blast some good music and just bask and enjoy. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere for a while, so I’m going to be cooking every day,” he said.
Brutø isn’t the only restaurant celebrating.
While The Ginger Pig, a restaurant serving Asian street food in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood, didn’t win a Michelin Star, they were named a “Bib Gourmand” restaurant, Michelin’s way of recognizing good quality meals that can be afforded on a budget.
Those restaurants were revealed a few weeks before Michelin Stars were awarded. That means Natascha Hess, head chef and owner at The Ginger Pig, has already seen the impacts landing in the Michelin Guide.
“We’ve been very, very busy,” Hess said. “The week after we got the award, our sales went up 74 percent from the previous week. So it’s been amazing.”
All restaurants named in Colorado’s inaugural Michelin Guide will likely see an uptick in business — even the ones that were simply recommended by the guide, and not given a star or a Bib Gourmand designation.
Denise Mickelsen, communications director for the Colorado Restaurant Association, said Michelin’s presence in the state is expected to have a positive impact across Colorado’s restaurant industry.
“We are hearing about Michelin chefs from around the world who are looking to bring their restaurants to Colorado. Everyone wants to be here anyway for the outdoor rec, and now they want to be here for the dining scene,” she said. “We are hoping it helps with the labor challenges our industry has been facing because professional hospitality workers will want to come here and be a part of the Michelin scene. We think it’s going to just be a plus all the way around.”
Colorado state and local tourism board authorities paid about $600,000 to Michelin to incentivize the French company to bring its famed Michelin Guide to Colorado, the New York Times found. Michelin only considered restaurants from municipalities that contributed to that payment — Boulder, Denver, Aspen, Vail, Snowmass and Beaver Creek — which the company says is used to offset expenses. It is not clear whether Michelin will consider restaurants in other communities, like Colorado Springs and Aurora, for next year’s guide.