From a verifiable dive to a coveted Denver institution, the Cherry Cricket has progressed from a bar with a delicatessen next door to a restaurant with a bar. When the Cricket was purchased in 1990 by Elizabeth “Eli” McGuire, she set out with a determination to create the best burger and the “best damn bar around.” Before her death in 2000, this exact goal was achieved and the famous hamburgers live on to be a Denver, and now national, favorite. With a hamburger selection that focuses on quality and custom creation, the Cricket has attracted the attention of famous foodies and has been featured on television shows such as Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” and “101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down.”
We recently visited the Cherry Cricket and sat down with General Manager, Kathy Huddleston and Kitchen Manager, Marco Antonio Gorjoux to chat about the restaurant’s overall success. What we learned is that you don’t mess with a winning recipe and that the key to customer loyalty lies in consistency with the menu and service.
Here are eight great tips for success we picked up along the way:
Successful Tip #1: Give Customers Room to Dine
This exact point was made evident at 11 a.m. as the doors opened to a waiting lunch crowd. A steady stream of customers craving juicy burgers filed into the sprawling dining area that stretches between two indoor sections and two outdoor sections. The Cricket can feed 280 covers when operating at full capacity.
Successful Tip #2: Keep the Kitchen Moving
Kitchen Manager Gorjoux boasts that over 6,000 hamburgers fly off of his commercial charbroiler each week. “The broiler is the most important piece of equipment in the kitchen,” he states. “It has to be working at 100% every day.” In order to keep the broiler in tip-top condition, the kitchen staff thoroughly scrubs and scrapes the equipment from top to bottom every day. Marco adds, “Once a week we take it all apart and clean under the grates and really get in there.” It’s apparent that Marco keeps tomorrow’s success top of mind in his daily operations.
Successful Tip #3: Keep Kitchen Rules Consistent
As for the rest of the way the kitchen operates, Marco points out that, “Every kitchen employee must go through a week of training in each cooking and prep station. They need to know how to make the recipes correctly for every order, every time.” This is to assure that everyone understands exactly how to cook the winning and decades-old recipes that have conferred so much acclaim upon the Cricket.
Successful Tip #4: If the Menu Works, Keep It
When asked just what the winning recipe consists of Marco told us, “We only use Angus certified beef.” Kathy added, “It’s been tough with the rising cost of beef. We try very hard to keep the menu prices affordable and within the customers’ expectations. We’ve definitely had to do some pricing strategies, but one thing we are not willing to do is sacrifice the quality of the beef. It’s what makes our burgers great.”
Successful Tip #5: Nurture Your Neighbors
Another aspect of what makes the Cherry Cricket so addicting is that it is truly a neighborhood establishment. People can come in to try something they saw on a TV show or to just meet with friends and watch a game on one of the many flat screen TV’s that surround the interior dining area. And for those friends gathering around the bar, the good times can definitely roll as food is served until midnight and drinks are poured until 2 a.m.
Successful Tip # 6: Offer Quality Beverages with Quality Food
From tap to bottle, the Cricket believes in serving great beer along with their famous burgers. That’s probably why they were named the number one seller of the Colorado-based craft brewery Oskar Blue’s beers in May of 2012. I asked Kathy Huddleston about what the secret to selling so much beer was, she answered that “it’s just a natural combination; people want a great beer to go with a great burger.” This no-brainer approach includes offering a selection of over 50 bottled and 23 draft options of local and national beer labels.
Successful Tip #7: Keep it a Family Show
Although the Cricket’s roots began as a smoke-filled bar, it has grown into a family-friendly restaurant serving multiple generations of happy customers. When asked about how they keep a kid-friendly atmosphere with one large bar in front and a second mini bar for the patio area, Kathy responds, “Our customers are typically well-behaved and respectful. However, we have a very strict policy about not over-serving guests.” And while observing the staff bustling around the dining room during our interview, it’s clear to see that everyone has a smile on their face and is happy to be there. It’s also clear to see that the staff respects their work environment and comes in ready to work, which leads us into the last, but not least valuable tip for success, train your staff with consistency.
Successful Tip #8: Be Consistent with Staff Training
The consistency of creating a famous burger menu and winning beer list seemingly flows into the consistency of staff training. As noted, the kitchen staff endures a comprehensive training program before they are allowed to fly solo with customer orders. And the front-of-the-house employees face the same level of intensive training – in short, they really know their stuff. Despite the daily specials that interchange weekly, the menu remains nearly the same, allowing for staff to grow familiar with the product they are selling. When asked for recommendations from several different employees, a universal reply was received, “Definitely the cream cheese jalapeño burger, or if you want something truly decadent, try the peanut butter and fried egg burger.” With the entire staff echoing the same message, it’s hard to ignore the house recommendation.
With quality ingredients and consistency in the forefront of all operations, the Cherry Cricket pairs a winning combination that is sure to draw in the crowds for years to come.
To see more from our chat with Kathy Huddleston and Marco Gorjoux check out our video, Amazing Food: The Key to a Successful Restaurant.