River and Woods, the restaurant taking the place of the now closed John’s Restaurant, strives to be a true community spot that will serve an elevated taste of Colorado comfort food. Like their eats, the space itself offers modern whimsy wrapped in tradition. We sat down with Daniel Asher and Josh Dinar, the brilliant minds behind this concept, to find out more about River and Woods.
There is a lot of buzz going around about the location that you have chosen. Tell us about that.
Daniel: John’s Restaurant was a staple of the community since the early 1970s. Chef John only wanted to feed people this beautiful, timeless food and so many people that we talk to have some kind of fond memory of the place—it’s where they went every year for their anniversary or to celebrate some other special occasion. There’s a long history to the house, which is over 100 years old—it’s imbued with people’s memories, so the space just feels authentic. That being said, it also needed some serious love. We want to honor the history of the place, both with the design and the food, but also make it feel comfortable and current. We’re opening and brightening things inside and taking advantage of this great backyard area that’s really unlike anything in town.
Daniel, you left the Root Down community to come to Boulder…what was the motivation/inspiration behind your decision?
Daniel: Boulder was my first experience of Colorado, it’s where I lived when I met and began dating my (now) wife, it’s where I fell in love with the organic agriculture of the Boulder Valley and deep connection to the soil shared by the farming community, it’s where I wandered the foothills and took in the magic that is living in Colorado. Boulder was very good to me and I want to immerse myself back in that space… I want to cook there and have a routine there and feel connected.
Are there any features of the space that you plan to keep?
Josh: The bones of the original space remain the same. There’s still this great little enclosed front porch and the vaulted roof of the original house is becoming a bar area. We’re re-incorporating some of the original beams that were from a Colorado silver mine. The kitchen remains the kitchen, but we’re heavily renovating there so that there’ll be a “food bar” and some other in-kitchen seating—it’s all about bringing the community into the experience.
How did you get the idea for crowdsourcing recipes?
Josh: That originally came from a conversation with a friend of mine who’s sister had been in Europe and been to a restaurant that featured a different mother’s cooking on a rotating basis. It was a restaurant based on home cooking in this really unique way—by showcasing that one thing that this mother or that mother was “famous” for. Everyone has those recipes that stick with their families and that become filled with personal meaning. We just thought, imagine a restaurant that was dotted with nods to those dishes. What if we could tell, not just our story, but the story of the Boulder community, across cultures and generations, through the food that defines the people eating it? How cool would that be? The idea just kind of stuck with me for a while, though I didn’t actively go out and try to find a space for it.
Do you have any selection criteria for the menu items that are submitted?
Daniel: No—we just want the dishes that people love to cook for their families and friends. It could be a side dish or a sauce or a small plate, right up to main dishes. We want to hear people’s language of food, the stories and memories that go with it. And of course we want to cook things that end up tasting amazing and that translate well in a restaurant environment. The ones that get used will be dependent on a number of things—seasonality and how well it goes with what else is on the menu and whether it works from a sourcing standpoint, but we’ll always be rotating the menu and trying new things. We plan to invite the people who submit recipes in for tasting events so they can help translate their submission into restaurant reality, give them a gift card so they can come in and enjoy it, and we’ll call out the submitted dishes on the menu. We plan to print a cookbook of those shared recipes as well, so that a good number of the dishes that are submitted are shared with the community in some way.
We’re very excited about the “backyard” concept. Can you tell our readers a bit about that?
Josh: We’re really excited about it too. The lot behind the restaurant was never utilized by John’s, but it’s a big space, and a blank canvas so to speak. We plan to fully enclose the area, and design it so that it’s this great extension of the restaurant. We’ll feature an outdoor grill/smoker/rotisserie and really fun bar area, and there will be places for kids to play while adults enjoy some grownup time. We’re looking at building a little fort that will house a “Kids Community Table.” We’ll do some live acoustic music from time to time out there, and be able to do some really fun events. The whole space will be versatile enough that we can host receptions and small weddings as well.
How has the experience with IndieGogo been for you so far?
Josh: It’s been a lot of work, but really great. For us, the campaign is about engaging the community right from the beginning, and the support that we’ve seen has been really overwhelming. It’s corny, but there’s a lot of love that’s gone into this project already, and the encouragement we’ve gotten, both in words and in contributions to the campaign, makes us feel like we’re onto something. We want to make sure that people know we’re not asking for charity, though—that supporting a community endeavor is about give and take—and that when they contribute, we’re offering something in return.
What, specifically, are funds being used for?
Daniel: We’re using the funds to help build the Backyard at River and Woods, which we believe will be an experience in and of itself. The money we’ve targeted as our goal will cover a portion of the landscape design and build. It’s a pretty big project, and there will be a lot that goes into it.
What are some of the incentives you’re offering to your campaign contributors?
Josh: Everyone who contributes will be included on a Backyard Builders Wall that will be displayed outside. From there, we’re offering Gift Certificates that are 10-20% more than the dollar amount being contributed, invites to private opening parties, t-shirts and hats, right up to private hosted events, either with Chef Daniel at your house or at the restaurant.
If people want to learn more about the campaign or your restaurant, who should they contact?
Josh: People can check out our Facebook page, our website at riverandwoodsboulder.com, or they can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also check out the Indiegogo campaign page and video at https://igg.me/at/riverandwoods. And be sure to watch this video of Daniel describing the concept below.