At the Boathouse on Grand, every day is a new experience.
The Mancos restaurant, which took over the spot formerly held by Olio Restaurant, is the embodiment of decades of culinary experience between its two owners, Jennifer and Dave Stewart. And it’s the culmination of a dream that for Jenn started at 16 years old when she worked at the Dairy Queen, and for Dave began at 15 behind the food counter at his local pool.
With dishes like Fabada Asturiana and Iberico de Bellota Pork Loin, they are bringing the taste of Spain to Southwest Colorado. But what that is exactly is something of a surprise, given the menu changes every day.
“The opportunity or experience that we're offering here is going to be different from what you're going to find anywhere else over here,” Dave, 52, told The Journal. “We want people to come in with an open mind and be willing to try what we have to offer.”
One constant, however, is the use of local producers, whether that’s squash and tomatoes from Banga’s Farm, beef from Cross Creek Ranch Premium Meats or garlic from Mountain Roots Produce. (“Some of the best garlic I’ve ever seen in my life,” David says.) There’s even a wine on tap with grapes sourced entirely from Hawks’ Nest vineyard in Dolores.
“So many farm-to-table places actually barely buy anything (locally), but they advertise it like crazy,” said Mike Nolan, part-owner of Mountain Roots Produce. David and Jenn “just do it really well,” he said.
Every week, while Dave plans the menu, Jenn, 44, is on the phone with their many suppliers figuring out what is available. (“It's probably more vendors than what the bookkeeper might say is reasonable,” she said.) But for them, the extra work is worth it.
After an extensive remodel, which included new wall finishes, floor, air conditioning unit and appliances, The Boathouse on Grand opened its doors this year to a community in need of culinary inspiration.
Alongside Olio Restaurant, The Mill at Junction, a town staple for 42 years, closed its doors in 2019. LivWell, a cannabis dispensary, took over the space. And after taking over Hamburger Haven’s former location in 2022, Missy’s closed later that year.
Now, with a captive audience, it’s a chance for Dave and Jenn to do what they do best: build a community around their food.
“We work really hard at finding the good stuff, both on the menu and on the wine list. And we're not going to sell anything that we don't absolutely love,” said Dave. “All it takes is somebody willing to say: ‘Sure, we trust you. Put us in your hands.’ And we'll take care of them.”
One night in May 2007, when Dave was working as the executive chef at Seasons of Durango, his friends came to dinner and brought Jenn along.
Intrigued by their guest, Dave introduced himself and proceeded to send several complimentary dishes to their table. But the night ended with Dave and Jenn going their separate ways. A week later, Jenn came back to the restaurant and handed Dave a business card over the counter with a message on the back: “Let’s get dinner sometime”.
They started dating after that. And soon, Jenn took what was supposed to be a temporary role as a pastry chef at Seasons. She would end up working there five years before the two of them quit together.
“We knew we wanted to start our own thing,” said Jenn. “But as long as we were giving all our energy and brain power to another business, we couldn't.”
They soon got the opportunity to run The Boathouse at Electra Lake, about 30 minutes up the road from Durango. And it quickly became a dream job.
The restaurant was only open during the summer months, so Dave and Jenn could spend the rest of the year traveling and figuring out the menu for the next season. But when the lake was drained to repair the nearby dam, the restaurant, which had its own purification system, lost its only water supply.
“We had really gotten into the groove of it and were loving the lifestyle, loving the community that we had built,” said Jenn. “It was really heartbreaking.”
For nearly three years, Jenn and Dave searched for a new location.
Most of the spots they looked at were too big and would have been too difficult to staff. Then, they got word that another chef had backed out of the downtown Mancos location. And Jenn and Dave knew they had found their new home.
“We'd always imagined ourselves one day having a restaurant in this space. And now here we are,” said Dave.
Given their past success, it’s likely the community Jenn and Dave built at Electra Lake will have no trouble driving 30 minutes West instead of North to visit the new location. Now, the focus is on establishing themselves in a region they believe is only going to grow.
“Moving to Mancos in 2023 feels like when I moved to Durango from Boulder in the early ’90s. It feels like a lot of stuff is starting to happen here,” said Dave. “Mancos is still a pretty traditional, small, Southwest Colorado town. But there are a lot more young people now, there are people raising families.”
For Dave and Jenn, the focus is always on delivering the best quality food. But it’s also about creating an experience for guests, one that transports them from Southwest Colorado to a lively night out in Seville.
“Cooking is the easy part,” said Dave. “It’s being able to go above and beyond, remembering names and faces and giving people a special experience, giving them more than what they’ve expected when they walk in the door.”
The Boathouse on Grand is open for dinner Thursday to Sunday. Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (970) 533-9177.