Decisive restaurateur finds innovation is key to success

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Joseph Freyre puts the adventure into being an entrepreneur. The Peruvian-born restaurant owner and fine dining aficionado recently purchased the Manitou Springs Pancake House – surprising a number of his long-time clients familiar with Freyre’s flair for tableside cookery and a world-class Steak Diane. But then, most of his quick, dramatic decisions have paid handsome dividends.

One of his earliest adventures included coming to the United States at the age of 18 to live with his older brother, a Vietnam veteran who had just returned from active duty. “My dad had always run a restaurant in Peru,” he said, “so it was not difficult to find work.”

More than twenty-five years later, Freyre looks back on his career which includes positions of increasing responsibility and scope. “I got my first promotion into management at the Garden of the Gods Club,” he recalls. As a young man, he had enjoyed being able to work winters in resort areas like Miami or Phoenix as a waiter. “But once I got a taste of responsibility, I liked it,” he says of his Garden of the Gods experience. “From that point on, I began to really build a career.”

The following years in Freyre’s life included serving as maitre d’hotel and as assistant food and beverage manager for the Antlers Adam’s Mark Hotel. Eventually, he moved into what was to become a ten-year tenure as maitre d’hotel for the Penrose Room at the Broadmoor Hotel. “Many of my customers today got to know me back then,” he reflects. It was this combination of customer loyalty and the desire to own his own establishment that resulted in the now forty-something entrepreneur’s decision to buy the Hatch Cover Restaurant at Country Club Corners in 1998 with support from local investors.

As a first-time business owner, Freyre relied on years of experience, extensive personal contacts and gut feelings to assess what needed to be changed in the newly-acquired restaurant. “We revamped the menu, bought new furnishings and did some remodeling,” he said, “but what helped build the business was a good bar business.” For the next three years, the Hatch Cover not only maintained busy weekend bookings (doubling revenues, staff and traffic), but catered to an after-hours crowd in the upstairs bar.

“It was very exciting to have my own signature on the Hatch Cover,” says Freyre in retrospect, “although I did try to micromanage the operation.” His background had prepared him to handle budgets, cost-analysis, payroll, running a bar and a restaurant – but there were never enough hours in a day to do it all.

Once he made the decision to sell in 2001, Freyre and his brother and partner, Luis, began scouting the landscape for a new opportunity. “We stopped in at the Manitou Pancake House on a Saturday morning for breakfast,” he recalls. That was in March 2002. By April, the two partners had negotiated a deal with the restaurant’s original owner, and went to work, once again, to update and remodel the facility. “We saw the tremendous popularity of the Pancake House, and knew we had a winner,” he said. “But I also saw an opportunity to add another layer to the business by opening for dinner.” That decision required adding a bar and “dressing up” the dining room.

From the Garden of the Gods Club to the Antler’s Grille to the Broadmoor Hotel’s Penrose Room, the restaurateur had built an impressive reputation for his knowledge and management of classy menus and upscale dining operations. It seemed only natural to translate that background into a new location – but in a relaxed, “bistro-style” ambience.

Once his dinner menu was ready, it was tested on his patrons. Everyone agreed his sea bass and pepper steak entrees were as wonderful as ever, but over the following weeks, the dinner business never materialized. Finally, in August, the ever-realistic Freyre decided to abandon dinner service and took his fine-dining signature “Joseph’s” sign from atop the restaurant. “I’ll put it up again when I find the right place for it,” he says confidently.

“Another goal has been to remodel our large meeting room so that it would be ready for parties and banquets for the holidays,” he said. The area, which had remained in almost original condition since the 1970s, was overdue to have the carpet stripped from its walls, and to have new flooring installed. In addition, Freyre updated wallpaper and added decorator touches throughout in his first few months of ownership. Marketing plans for the main-level private meeting or banquet room include personal contact with area business owners, says Freyre. “Especially for service clubs, hobby groups or holiday parties, we can offer evening dinner and bar service as well as lunch or breakfast,” he said.

“The Manitou Springs Pancake House restaurant has been doing so well for so long that it seems to run itself,” Freyre says. He does see an opportunity to offer a family-style menu and possibly some authentic Peruvian dishes, particularly during the busy summer tourist season, but probably not the upscale fare he’s used to preparing. “I miss my evening customers, so I have been in touch with a few restaurant owners that might be interested in selling.” So far, he adds, too many have been expecting to be paid for “blue sky” that he doesn’t think really exists. “If a guy has to close his restaurant, what does that say about his clientele?” he asks.

Admittedly, Freyre is motivated by the adventure, by a “fire and challenge” to make his own mark on the local dining scene – and is prepared to build his customer base from the ground up. Like many entrepreneurs, the chance to set his own rules and to create a business model compatible with his own talents is what drives Joseph Freyre. And the “Joseph’s” sign needs a new home in a suitable location.

In the meantime, however, as the friendly locals, retired couples and vacationers pile in his front door for mouth-watering Dutch apple or oat and spice pancakes, steak and eggs, and old-fashioned chipped beef on toast, this owner is not complaining. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my customers – and to continue a very popular tradition,” he says. “That’s one decision I’m happy with.”