Side dish: Jay Gust now at TAPAteria 

Gust: Tree to TAPA

Just as Jay Gust prepares to release a new menu for Maxi's Restaurant and Lounge at the Doubletree Hotel, his post since late 2009, he's also preparing to fold up his knife kit again. As of March 1, he'll become the chef and GM of TAPAteria (2607 W. Colorado Ave., tapateria.com), as announced by owner Dave Brackett earlier this week.

"He'll use our existing menu as a canvas that he can take off from," says Brackett, adding Gust can "put whatever he wants on the specials board ... I want to cut him loose."

Gust, who most notably headed the Ritz Grill from 2001 to '08, says, "I definitely want to do some crazy theme dinners and get back to pushing the envelope ... Dave's got a great opportunity for me. Eventually I want to look at buying him out. ... It's time to start the dynasty, so to speak."

Brackett confirms that he plans to mentor Gust into potential ownership "one day," adding management skills to Gust's strong base of food and wine knowledge and passion for Spanish cuisine. (Gust based a month-long trip to Spain in 2006 entirely around meals.)

Both men mention the challenge of Gust adapting to TAPAteria's tiny, open kitchen with its limited cooking equipment, but Gust jokes that "there's a million ways to boil water." He notes he wants to focus on the charcuterie plates and possibly get into curing his own meats in the future.

Blissed in

As business incubators go, Gotta Love It! Market has been prolific, launching the likes of Mya Bella Cupcakes and Her Story Café.

That shared Old Colorado City commercial kitchen continues to help birth businesses, in this case Simply Bliss Bakery and Mile High Whoopie Pie Company, which are spitting off and teaming up soon to open Bliss Bakery & Kitchen (818 Village Center Drive, bliss-bakery.com) around early May.

Simply Bliss owner Michelle Asher, a former stay-at-home mom and web designer, started her business in June and has since become popular for her red velvet brownies and pink velvet cakes. In the new space, formerly occupied by Sweet Celebrations, Asher says she'll offer an array that includes gluten-free and dairy-free items. There will also be custom cakes, a birthday feature wherein kids decorate their own cakes or cupcakes, and of course, Whoopie Pies.

Asher says that she expects more communal kitchens will pop up "because there's such a need — lots of people get turned away because of competing products."

Sausage a go-go

Denver's Continental Sausage continues to build buzz locally, simply because more and more businesses are opting to buy its quality products, which use sustainably raised meats, organic fruits and veggies, and natural casings. Consumers dig the creative flavors, from pheasant with mushrooms, spinach and Parmesan to cranberry-apricot wild boar.

Your best bet for sampling widely is catching Bill Layton of Bite Me Gourmet Sausage (331-0546) in Acacia Park or a few blocks south on Tejon Street, next to the Downtown Burrito Company. (Check Bite Me's Facebook page for schedule info.) Usually from around 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., weekdays, Layton offers around a dozen sausage flavors and four to eight cream-cheese filling options (think cayenne or dill) plus his own homemade sauerkraut, on a sourdough or French loaf ($4).

The former general contractor launched the mobile business last summer, partly inspired by Denver's Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs but also motivated by his own annual backyard Oktoberfest fundraiser. (See sads.org/healing-wall-entries/Sally-Layton for the inspiring story on that.)

Layton envisions expansion later, with perhaps a second cart and food truck, plus working with other sausage-makers on his own recipe blends and procuring even rarer sausage flavors, such as Alaskan reindeer. For those allergic to fun and culinary exploration, he does sell basic hot dogs for $2.50.

VO2 max with sprinkles

Some things in nature just work better with less air, and two of those things happened to join forces last month in Manitou Springs.

Legendary local mountain runner Matt Carpenter, the city's current Mayor Pro Tem, purchased the Colorado Custard Company (906 Manitou Ave., coloradocustard.com) from previous owners Vic and Barb Almen.

To explain that opening comment: Custard is whipped with about 20 percent less air than ice cream, contributing to a creamier texture, while Carpenter has set running records in the thin air above 14,000 feet.

"My wife and I had always wanted to open an ice cream place," says Carpenter. "We'd been sponsoring the Manitou Springs ice cream socials every year. I love the fact that there's always smiles involved with it."

When asked if he's hanging up the trail shoes for a day job, Carpenter says he's still running a lot, and that the business has only forced him to be more rigid with his schedule, which actually helps him: "Father Time catches us all, but if I can keep it fun and still keep running fast, I'll keep running," he says.

Plus there's the need to run off all the extra butterfat content in his diet, no?

"That's the best part of the job. I've been known to make the occasional mistake on purpose. When you make a mistake here, you get to eat it."

Coco hubs up

Cake Crumbs (cake-crumbscos.com, soon) opened in the former Opb&j location at 3 E. Bijou St., on Tuesday, providing a home base for The Springs Cupcake Truck (thespringscupcaketruck.com). Denon Moore, co-owner of the Denver-based business, says they have been eyeing a Springs expansion for the last nine months. "Our fans love the fact that if they miss the [Denver Cupcake] truck, they can go somewhere to get cupcakes by the same bakers," she says.


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