While visiting Downtown Fort Collins, many people experience a feeling of being transported back into a different era. This feeling is often described by visitors with sentiments of nostalgia characterizing a time few of us alive have even had first-hand experience in. The kindness and hospitality of the people, the artisanal mom and pop shops lining the streets, and of course, the architecture play a major role in fostering these feelings. The buildings in Downtown Fort Collins are truly special. They are maintained, with lots of love, generation after generation, to honor their original aesthetic. One such building houses the renowned Silver Grill Cafe.
The roots of The Silver Grill Cafe date all the way back to 1912 when “UNEEDA Lunch Cafe '' (You Need a Lunch) opened up and back when the population of Fort Collins was just under 9000 people. This fact makes The Silver Grill the oldest continuously operated restaurant in all of Northern Colorado.
Recently, The Silver Grill transitioned ownership from longtime - 42 years to be exact - local owner John Arnolfo to Alan and Jackie Jantzen. We took this transition as an opportunity to sit down with both John and Alan to learn more insider details about The Silver Grill - its history, what’s happening now, and what we can look forward to.
John Arnolfo graduated from Colorado State University in 1974 and after graduating left to work at a Vail ski resort with his good friend and college roommate Mike Gress. John and Mike had aspirations of owning their own restaurant one day, but it was one fateful day when they returned to visit Fort Collins and indulge in breakfast at The Silver Grill that they had stumbled upon their unexpected once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. John describes how after having a brief conversation with one of the staff members, he learned that the owner was listing the restaurant for sale that very day, in fact at that very moment. John and Mike waited for the owner to return and negotiated the sale right then and there. The sale officially closed on Valentine’s Day in 1979.
From that point onward, John describes the challenging journey of restaurant ownership that many in hospitality can relate to – long hours spent toiling in a labor of love serving the visitors and residents of Fort Collins. The challenges and financial hardships that The Silver Grill endured during the mid to late 1980s led Mike to choose to pursue a different path and so John became the sole owner in 1986. At this juncture, John realized he had to do something to generate renewed excitement, perhaps through a signature offering, if he were to come out of the challenges presented triumphantly.
This is when Silver Grill's popularized cinnamon rolls came into the picture. The cinnamon rolls we’ve all come to know and love from the Silver Grill were inspired by a sweet dough recipe John read in Better Homes and Gardens. Despite not having any background or work experience in baking and all the while keeping in mind that cinnamon rolls were all the trending rage at the time, John set his mind up to craft the perfect cinnamon rolls to add to his menu. Truth be told his valiant attempts did not yield appetizing results. It wasn’t until he placed an ad in the paper to find a baker that John’s luck turned around. Russ Hamilton, a retired and respected baking professional, responded to John’s ad and took him under his wing to teach him the tricks of the trade.
One can say at this point in the story that the rest is history, for The Silver Grill has certainly carved a special place in the heart of Fort Collins to become the city icon that it is today. It’s now 2022 and the classic American diner continues to serve up those giant cinnamon rolls – and, of course, hearty homestyle breakfasts that nourish more than just an appetite for good food, but a longing for simpler times and old fashioned hospitality. Alan Jantzen, one of the new owners of The Silver Grill, describes walking into this establishment as a new owner as if he is coming home to his family. The spirit of warm traditions carries on through the service provided and the photographs that decorate the walls with tokens of history.
Looking ahead, Alan and John plan to be working together hand in hand for some time, collaborating to ensure customer satisfaction and continued successes to celebrate. The pandemic took its toll as it has on all – but after a century of challenges, there truly do not appear to be any difficulties that this enduring restaurant cannot take on. John and Alan both agree – not experiencing The Silver Grill is akin to not fully experiencing Fort Collins, so take the time to sit down and enjoy a meal at The Silver Grill in Fort Collins, Colorado.