Op-Ed: Proud to power Real Pueblo’s future

Recently, Westword published an op-ed by John Rodriguez in response to the opening of our Fuel & Iron Bar in Denver, “For the real pueblo, drive south to the real town.” As co-owner of Fuel & Iron Bar, I’m all for that title. In fact, the main purpose of our bar is to give people a taste of Pueblo-inspired food and drink (most from Pueblo farmers) to showcase the amazing character of Pueblo and encourage people to visit. If you doubt the sincerity of this premise, consider the investments we are making in the Pueblo community:

• When it opens this fall, Fuel & Iron Food Hall, located in the historic Holmes Hardware Building in downtown Pueblo, will serve as an incubator and springboard for chefs who want to start their own physical restaurants in Pueblo. The five chefs/restaurateurs who joined the project are from Pueblo or already have a significant presence in the community.

• Fuel Farm, an urban farm and greenhouse that will launch a farmers’ market and on-farm delivery program to create greater opportunities for Pueblo County farmers.

• Fuel Kitchens, an incubator commissary kitchen that will help Pueblo entrepreneurs grow packaged goods businesses, as well as support food trucks, caterers, and other mobile food businesses that need a place to prepare.

• Fifty-two workforce housing units, including 28 on the upper floors of the Holmes Hardware Building and 24 on an adjacent lot built by indieDwell, a modular home builder with a factory in downtown Pueblo.

• A child care center on the Pueblo Riverwalk, the first child care center in downtown Pueblo, which will serve food hall employees, apartment residents, and other downtown workers and residents.

• An apprenticeship program with concentrations in Restaurant Ownership, Agriculture, and Packaged Goods, which will bring culinary education back to Pueblo in light of the impending closure of Pueblo Community College’s culinary arts program.

In total, these projects represent more than $20 million in investments in downtown Pueblo that will directly help Pueblo residents start and grow their own businesses in the food and beverage industry. The size of these investments dwarfs the start-up capital invested in our Denver bar many times over. Making these significant investments and then trying to recreate the experience as a sham in Denver, deterring visitors from Pueblo, would not only be incredibly counterproductive, but would be financially ruinous given that co-owner Zach Cytryn and I have and will continue to personally guarantee the loans backed by these investments. We hope the bar and the conversations it generates (including the editorial) will serve to drive more traffic to Pueblo.

The only part of the editorial we disagree with is the premise that Pueblo has experienced “five decades of stagnation” and has “ineffective leadership.” While Pueblo lags behind the rest of Colorado in some areas, the Pueblo we know is a vibrant, ambitious, and entrepreneurial community that continues to make great strides. Just a few examples:

• Pueblo brands such as Solar Roast Coffee, Walter Brewing Company, Springside Cheese, Jojo’s Sriracha and Formulary 55 are expanding and are distributed nationally. Not to mention Snooze Mattress Co., Pueblo’s first national franchise.

• Arts organizations such as Blo Back Gallery, Artisan Textile Company, The Ethos, and Colorado Arts and Artists make Pueblo a hub for the creative and artistic community. Plus, Analogue Books & Records, an amazing book and record store downtown.

• New restaurants like Brues Alehouse Brewing Co., Dee Tacko, Bingo Burger, Bistoro, Ruby’s and Blackbox Provisions are adding to Pueblo’s formidable dining scene.

• Large-scale technology innovations (like a new hyperloop test facility or the world’s first solar-powered steel mill) on a daily basis (like ActivArmor, a custom 3D printed molding company; or TankMatez Innovative Aquatic Products, which simplifies maintenance of ‘aquarium) are developing Pueblo’s technology industry.

• Civic attractions such as the Pueblo Riverwalk, the newly expanded Pueblo Convention Center, Rawlings Library (largest library in the world – fight me on this one), and the Pueblo Levee Trail continue to make Pueblo a great place to spend time.

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Whether we are good messengers of Pueblo greatness is certainly up for debate. We’re not from Pueblo and therefore arguably don’t deserve to build a brand that honors its heritage. That’s why we try to involve Puebloans in our project as much as possible, including our Culinary and Educational Director, Mo Montgomery, who designed our Denver bar menu; an advisory board of Pueblo natives living in Denver; approximately 100 of our investors; our muralist, former director of the Pueblo Arts Alliance, Dan Levinson; and the twelve local Pueblo County producers who provide a significant portion of our ingredients, including Gagliano’s Italian Market & Deli and Milberger Farms.

The feedback we’ve received from Pueblo residents and expats living in Denver has been overwhelmingly positive, encouraging us to keep moving forward. We certainly hope that the work we do will serve to support rather than supplant those who have built Pueblo for generations. To do otherwise would be a massive failure.

In summary, we’d like to quote John Rodriguez’s editorial directly: “I’m not saying you shouldn’t frequent Fuel & Iron. To frequent? Yes. But if you crave authenticity and the real Pueblo, go to Pueblo.” When you make the journey, you will discover an enchanting, dynamic and multicultural city of which we are proud to be a part.

Nathan Stern is a commercial real estate broker and developer who specializes in independent local food and beverage. He is the co-founder of the Fuel & Iron project. Learn more at fuelandironpueblo.com.

Westword.com frequently publishes opinion pieces and essays on topics of interest to the community; opinions are those of the authors, not Westword. Have one you’d like to submit? Send it to [email protected]where you can also comment on this piece.

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