Friday, August 21, 2015

Africano returns to reopen Warehouse

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 at 1:38 PM

In early July, I reported on the closure of The Warehouse in Side Dish, as chef Chip Johnson hung up his white coat in a very sudden manner. 

But long before Chip was in charge, The Warehouse was known as the stomping ground of chef James Africano, from mid 1997 to mid 2007. You've likely seen his face since as an annual vendor at Fiddles, Vittles & Vino

Africano took off to be the executive chef at Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico, a 920 square-mile ranch owned by Ted Turner, hosting the largest buffalo herd in the country and one of the largest solar electric generation plants in the U.S. — a 30 megawatt facility. 

Now, he's headed back to the Springs and to The Warehouse. Here's what he had to say on his Facebook page:

We’re back!!!
James and Shaundy Africano along with Food on the Fly LLC and Alpha Investments are proud to announce that The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery will resume operation in mid-late October! As you may remember James was the Chef of the Warehouse for nearly nine years and is excited to bring life back to the southern downtown landmark restaurant.
The Warehouse will dish up great food and hospitality again Monday through Friday 11 AM- 1 AM and Saturdays 10 AM-1 AM. The gallery space will also be available for all of your private function needs from wedding receptions to Christmas parties. We have several opening promotions planned so stay tuned and keep an eye for the updated website to launch by mid-September for more information.
We will begin taking phone calls September 1st at 719-475-8880. We are excited to serve you again and look forward to hearing from you soon!
James and Shaundy Africano
Owners and Operators
The Warehouse Restaurant
I spoke to him by phone, and he shared more on his decision to return. 

He said he found out about the closure and thought "that's a bummer," taking two full days to process and realize that "actually, this might be the best thing that's ever happened to me," he says. Turns out his wife and he have been seeking a restaurant of their own for the last four years, and almost signed up to take one on in Dallas last spring. But "this is the right thing, what we've been waiting for," he says, also noting an appreciation for being back in the same town where his mother resides. 
click to enlarge That's the smile we've been missing. - COURTESY JAMES AFRICANO
  • Courtesy James Africano
  • That's the smile we've been missing.

He reached out to his former boss and building owner Raphael Sassower, who briefly had a hand in the Mining Exchange Hotel venture, and the two worked out the details for a new lease. It helped Africano to have strong history with the location as he approached financial backers: "When you can say 'we netted this and we grossed this — we know it'll work, it makes things easier," he says. 

African doesn't have a menu hammered down yet, but sums up his goal as "good food that people want to eat at a reasonable price." He says he wants to "reposition the restaurant as more neighborhood-affordable, a two-to-three times a week place. The term gastropub is so overused. I don’t want to use it, but that's idea: small plates for less money where people can drink a bit more and enjoy themselves. It's not going to be $24 chicken or $40 lamb. ... maybe a couple plates over $20 at dinner, but everything else under."  

As for style and composition, he says to expect some game — to include Vermejo buffalo, which he calls "the best on the market, more expensive, but worth every penny" — but many other items than just red meat and potatoes, a big portion of what he had to serve to Vermejo's guest, who were 85 percent men. That changed his style for the recent years, but he looks forward to getting back into fresh items, to include classic Warehouse plates in perhaps a Throwback Thursdays model. 

"Whatever it is I'll do, the soul and heart will be there, and instilling that in my staff is incredibly important. ... The other half of the business is the gallery and banquet space," he says. "If people want a $40 per person, high-end wedding, we are more than capable. Part of what makes The Warehouse model work is that facility, which is capable of doing $500,000 to $700,000 a year — the restaurant just adds to that."

Another future potential is the spacious downstairs area, which two decades ago hosted Palmer Lake Brewing Company. All the equipment remains on site, he says, noting thoughts of potentially subletting to or partnering with a brewer to maximize the overall space. 

Regarding food sourcing, Africano has remained well-connected with area growers, such as AVOG members, who he'll tap when and where possible. He has an eye toward sustainable choices, but taking a transparent, matter-of-fact tone, he notes the realities both in cost and consistency in trying to source all-local; he will use big suppliers where needed. "The chain is the chain," he says, "I'm all for [the local] stuff, but I have to be realistic." 

One cool aspect Africano does have in mind is some invasivorism, such as serving Texas wild boar that he's used at Vermejo, making pancetta and using stew meat in a signature green chile. 

Most of all, he says, "I want to be relevant," regarding reviving the space and helping shape C-Springs culinary reputation. 

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