A few local, family-owned restaurants have reached or are fast approaching a milestone: 50 years in business.
We know that to transplants from the East and West coasts, it may not sound like that long. But consider that in 1960, the greater Springs area housed about 150,000 residents — and that today, the number is about four times larger. To make a single business thrive in, essentially, two totally different cities is a feat worth a mention.
Here are five stalwarts:
Conway's Red Top
Four Springs locations, one in Pueblo
N.F. Conway grew up in the Depression, so as an adult, he prided himself on providing a quality product at a good value. Hence the big Red Top burger — double the size of most commercial offerings, and locally celebrated enough that John McCain's handlers told him to order one during an election-season visit to Colorado Springs.
Jim Conway points out that Red Top's good name owes as much to N.F. Conway's hands as it does his head.
"My dad worked that grill from 1944 to 1968," says Jim, who notes that the elder Conway bought out Red Top's previous owners in 1962.
Conway describes his father as a bit of a comedian who had a "look-on-the-bright-side" kind of attitude. An employee, he says, once answered the phone and informed N.F. that his house was on fire. After hearing that everyone was out of the house and safe, he simply stated, "Well, let her burn!"
Jim is one of 10 children, and one of several who still retain an ownership stake in today's five locations.
"My whole life has been Red Top," he says.
Luigi's Homemade Italian Food
947 S. Tejon St., 632-7339, luigiscoloradosprings.com
"My parents had no illusions — they knew it would be hard work," says Gina Costley of Leo and Anne Cervetti, who opened Luigi's.
With a new baby on her hip, Anne worked the front of the house while Leo cooked, using family recipes with a hint of Northern Italy, by way of Chicago. The Cervettis valued family and enjoyed running a place where people could feel comfortable bringing their kids, a tradition Gina and her husband, Les, continue.
"I know those children are our future customers," she says.
After working side by side with Leo for years, Les and Gina bought out her parents and her sister. The basics at Luigi's today remain the same: rich, plentiful, homemade food and friendly service.
"If you had a meatball here years ago, it's going to taste the same," she says, and that's true even if the "here" you remember is actually the original location on Mill Street.
But it won't necessarily be that way forever: Gina says this may be the last generation for Luigi's. She sees her children having different lives. And when it comes down to it, she says, despite her passion for carrying on the tradition, "This will always be my parents' place."
The Dutch Kitchen
1025 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9962
Mike Flynn remembers a childhood road trip with his father, Eddie, who swooned over a buttermilk pie in Missouri: "Dad asked, and they just gave him the recipe."
Mike still serves that pie today at the Dutch Kitchen, the place his dad and mom, Marion, opened in 1959 — and above which the family lived when Mike was a kid.
The Dutch Kitchen made its name with, yes, the pies, as well as homemade sandwiches and Eddie's signature corned beef and cabbage. Mike and his wife, "Buck," continued the tradition when they took over in 1974. Mike's brother, Pat, has seen his sons follow their uncle, making for a third generation of Flynns in the business.
This is a big year, it being the Dutch Kitchen's 50th, but to Mike, running the business is not about reaching any artificial or arbitrary mile markers.
"When it's not fun anymore," he says, "it'll be time to pack it in."
Roman Villa Pizza
3005 N. Nevada Ave., 635-1806
Del and Lina Biondi left Chicago in the '50s to open a restaurant at the invite of Lina's parents Joe and Helen Romitti, who owned a four-year-old Roman Villa in Palmer Lake. Starting with only hand-tossed pizzas at a small store where Walgreen's now sits, they filled out their menu to include hearty pastas and Italian entrées when they moved one block north to their current location in 1960.
Lina, now 86, recalls all the hard work and a commitment to make things from scratch. The latter was at least somewhat grounded in a particular brand of practicality.
"We couldn't afford equipment, so everything was made by hand."
Lina mentions three rules she instilled in her children as they took over: 1. Keep a clean shop. 2. Keep the food consistent. 3. Keep your prices moderate for families. Over the years, she's collected baby photos on her restaurant walls, and she enjoys when one of those babies comes in now with their own families. She feels she has lived a "very rewarding life."
"You'll never be a millionaire," she says of the restaurant business, "but you'll never be hungry."
Mission Bell Inn
178 Crystal Park Road, Manitou Springs, 685-9089, missionbellinn.com
OK, so it's not 50 yet. But it's 47, and full of family memories. Ben Masias says he and all 10 of his siblings once were part of his parents' operation, which serves traditionally prepared chalupas, carnitas and sopaipillas.
"As late as 1972," he says, "we only had one outside employee."
Many of the Masias kids have gone on to do different things, with Helen and Dan's blessing; Ben, though, has found his niche carrying on his parents' tradition.
And, he says, "I have no intention of changing a thing."
At the drive-ins
We'd be remiss to feature longstanding Springs restaurants and leave out our oft-visited trio of classic drive-ins.
They don't have the same single-family histories as the businesses featured above, but they've all been around longer than 50 years. Today, they provide the best summer-evening options for burgers and soft-serve ice cream cones, with a side of nostalgia at no extra charge.
BJ's Velvet Freez
1511 N. Union Blvd., 633-6365
1833 W. Uintah St., 630-7008
2309 N. Weber St., 633-0618