The new year is bringing new changes to the downtown business scene, particularly up and down the main artery of Tejon Street.
A number of new businesses are taking root on Tejon, replacing some of the area’s recognizable mainstays.
In other cases, businesses are closing and leaving behind vacancies.
For example, the iconic Olive Branch restaurant closed last month, making way for Lucha Cantina, a branch of successful eateries in Georgetown and Breckenridge.
Bruegger’s Bagels moved out, opening the door for Bingo Burger, which already made a name for itself in Pueblo.
Also, just west of Acacia Park, an organic burger restaurant called The Skirted Heifer will begin serving where French cuisine had been served for more than 30 years at La Creperie.
Tejon Street is undergoing a resurgence of sorts, mostly (but not totally) involving food.
Lucha Cantina will occupy the space at 23 S. Tejon St., where the Olive Branch had thrived for decades as a downtown gathering place.
The new business owners, Chuck Holcomb and Chris Verikas, are refurbishing the space and cleaning down to the core at the restaurant. They’re making $125,000 in improvements to the space, including refinishing the original maple wood floors, Holcomb said.
Curiosity-seekers can watch the progress through a peephole in the front window.
Originally from the Boulder area, Holcomb and Verikas had worked at Old Chicago in Boulder. They have opened Lucha Cantina restaurants in Breckenridge and in Georgetown, in addition to Rockford, Ill.
In Colorado Springs, the duo purchased the assets and are leasing the space that had been “a breakfast and lunch institution in Colorado Springs,” Holcomb said.
As Lucha Cantina, the restaurant will serve Mexican-American food made from natural ingredients, all from scratch, he said. Items include homemade salsas, burgers, ribs, macaroni and cheese, and homemade soups.
The restaurant and tavern will be open from 11 a.m. to midnight, at least to start. The owners will place large televisions throughout the space, and the bar and tables will all have new surfaces, Holcomb said.
The opening day will be Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2, “if all goes well,” Holcomb said. The owners also plan a weekly “Our Profits for Nonprofits” night, during which 20 percent of sales will benefit an area nonprofit, Holcomb said.
Lucha Cantina, Holcomb said, means bar fight.
The Skirted Heifer soon will occupy the space at 204 N. Tejon, which La Creperie had occupied for 35 years.
“We are doing an organic, 100 percent grass-fed beef when possible, burger and homemade French fries,” said business owner and property owner Suzette Megyeri.
Megyeri and her husband Kevin own and operate the long-established Bambino’s Italian Eatery and Sports Bar at the corner of Platte Avenue and Circle Drive. That restaurant will remain open.
“When we first had this idea last summer, there was no burger place downtown,” said Megyeri. “There are some restaurants serving a pretty darn good burger” but none that specialized in burgers.
“I thought we would have a good little niche,” she said.
She said she’s been making a signature burger for years, where she melts “yummy cheddar cheese” on to the burger; it melts beyond the burger.
“It sticks out an inch and a half,” she said. “That’s the skirt.”
The skirted burger will cost $5.50 and will come with a choice of 13 free toppings. Also, the Skirted Heifer will make all the condiments by hand — ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and a special “heifer sauce” — and it will use homemade pickles.
“That really got us in touch with local farmers,” said Megyeri. After consulting with local farmers and conducting sample testing of locally grown, natural, grass-fed beef versus meat from other sources, the Megyeris decided to serve the local beef.
“That beef tastes better, and is so much more healthy for you,” said Megyeri.
The restaurant will also serve the delicacy of frozen custard, Megyeri said, adding, “I just bought the machine for $19,000. I have to do something to stand apart.”
The owners have invested $125,000 in refurbishing the 700-square-foot space, she said.
They plan to open the new restaurant March 1.
When Zeezo’s moved up the street from 104 N. Tejon St., it made room for Realtors with a unique twist.
Both Paul Collins, 54, and Angela Fugate, 31, worked for Challenger Homes communities at Cuchares Ranch, Mule Deer Crossing and Falcon Terrace at Springs Ranch. They met there and formed their own company on 11-12-13, or Nov. 12, 2013.
Collins and Fugate named their firm The Agency, a real estate agency that specializes in new home construction.
Collins and Fugate take customers through the process of buying a new home from the builders.
“We work for the builders and we do the sale,” Collins said, referring to the company’s specialty. The Agency also handles resale properties, but its specialty is new homes from the builders, Collins said.
“We do everything in real estate except property management,” Collins said. “If it can be bought, sold, traded, exchanged, that’s what we do.”
Last year, Collins and Fugate sold $28 million by finding buyers for 108 new homes in the range of $250,000 to $350,000, he said, adding, “We spend a lot of time working with military families. Military [rank] E5s and above will purchase homes if they’re going to be here three years or more.”
Collins said The Agency is actively seeking other Realtors to work there.
“Housing is the engine to a better economy in our opinion,” Collins said. “If housing’s doing well, most of the economy is doing well.”
Pueblo culinary artists Mary Oleskovich and Richard Warner are expanding north into Colorado Springs at 132 N. Tejon St., the former space of Bruegger’s Bagels.
Bingo Burger will open “hopefully in the spring,” said Warner.
Bingo Burger in Pueblo has been in business four years. Prior to Bingo Burger, the couple owned and operated Steel City Diner, and Oleskovich still operates Hopscotch Bakery in downtown Pueblo.
Warner describes the new Bingo Burger as a “farm-to-table quick-service burger joint. We’re committed to serving high-quality local products. We’re proud that most of our ingredients come from farmers and ranchers in the area.”
Potatoes come from the San Luis Valley, and other ingredients emanate from Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, or AVOG.
The restaurant’s signature item, the Bingo Burger, is made with Pueblo chilies mixed in with the beef. Clients get to choose the grill temperature, garden condiments, cheese and other items.
Warner estimated the business is spending $350,000 to refurbish the 2,000-square-foot space in the North Tejon Street location. “We’re looking forward to being downtown,” Warner said.
At 234 N. Tejon, Accents on Tejon is closing, said employee Richard Correa. “When the town was doing well, not on fire or flooded, business was good,” Correa said. “Now consumer confidence isn’t good.”
The store at the corner of Tejon Street and Platte Avenue has sold eclectic items, crystals, stones, jewelry, butterflies, quartz, fossils, quilts, moths and more.
“Business does not cover even the rent, unfortunately,” Correa said. “I think people would like these items. They just don’t know we’re here.”
Owners Steve and Erin McMichael Hess will ship the inventory to Pennsylvania, where they have another location. They also have an Internet store, Correa said.
Accents on Tejon has been open since 2011. The current lease still has several months, so the leaseholders are seeking someone to sublet the space.
Pikes Peak Chocolate has vacated 1251/2 N. Tejon Street, a space the shop has occupied for two years.
According to a manager who did not want to give her name, the traffic on Tejon “was just so negligible we were unable to sustain a business down there.”
She said other nearby business owners reported lower traffic and lower sales. Nearby Acacia Park attracted vagrants and homeless people, she said, making the area a place tourists and residents don’t want to visit.
The store’s Manitou Springs location at 805 Manitou Ave. remains open, serving homemade chocolate and Josh & John’s Ice Cream.