Luke Travins has done much during his 24-year stay in Colorado Springs to shape the restaurant scene that so many residents hold dear. A native of New York City, Travins moved here in 1990 to train on the U.S. National Team for team handball. He continued to live and train at the Olympic Training Center while starting with Concept Restaurants in 1991 at what is now MacKenzie’s Chop House (then known as Beckett’s). He left three years later to focus on his newfound career — and in another three years, became partner in the company.
During his time as president of New Concept Enterprises Inc., Travins has put a number of notches in his belt: He’s opened two new locations (Flatiron’s and a second Jose Muldoon’s on Powers Boulevard), served on various boards and steering committees, and continues to raise two sons (Luke, 15, and Tucker, 12) with his wife Melissa. The 44-year-old businessman talked this week about his restaurants — Ritz Grill, MacKenzie’s, Jose Muldoon’s, Flatiron’s and SouthSide Johnny’s — his athleticism and how those things correlate with the business community.
How do you feel the restaurant industry in downtown Colorado Springs has changed during your time here?
The industry has become more competitive, more diverse and over-couponed. The competition has increased the bar when it comes to creativity in food and beverage choices. For the most part, the clientele has remained constant but the customer base is more educated in restaurant terms. Food reality shows, online review sites and gourmet sections at grocery stores are some of the reasons the customer palate has changed in the past 20 years. Everyone’s a foodie, everyone’s a critic, and for the most part that’s a good thing.
What do you see in the future of that industry here?
We’re still a meat-and-potatoes town. Our military bases, Western heritage and protein-loving outdoorsmen keep the stockyards busy. Without a major commodities upheaval, I see the industry naturally evolving, but I don’t predict a major shift in the menu mix or taste buds of the region. Look at what’s happening up north with the Bass Pro Shop development, and look how well the brewpub industry is doing — those sectors are true Colorado. On a smaller scale, I still think there’s room for an upscale Italian place downtown — maybe a chef-driven, mini-Maggiano’s concept.
Do athletes have the same opportunity now that you had when you started?
When I lived at the Olympic Training Center we had close to 30 resident athletes working in the bar/restaurant/nightclub industry. You couldn’t walk into a popular place without seeing one of my colleagues. The business community here in the Springs reveres the competitors; athletes probably have an automatic foot in the door due to our training regimen and our networking with other successful former athletes. I believe the OTC athletes do have a special opportunity to crack the business community. I’m just not sure how many athletes want to stay here.
Is there anything in our community the might bolster such opportunity?
The City for Champions project would be an enormous reason for OTC athletes to stay here and help our community progress. Colorado Springs may be the Olympic City in name, but improving our Olympic destination facilities to include a museum and a multi-use downtown sports arena would solidify that distinction for decades. People don’t realize that there are other cities willing to do anything to seduce the USOC to relocate. I respectfully ask City Council to put aside their issues with other branches of government and re-evaluate their position on C4C. Would you rather these state economic development subsidies migrate elsewhere in Colorado? I vote for Colorado Springs to win for a change.
What has been your greatest challenge as president of the company?
The past three years have been extremely challenging. Rising food costs, recurrent minimum wage increases, [Affordable Care Act] ACA impact and flat sales growth have led to major changes in the way we do business. When I opened Flatiron’s in 2010, our signature steak — the Flatiron — cost about $4.50 per pound. Now it’s about $8.10 per pound and I’ve only increased the customer price by $2 in four years. Luckily I have great partners, managers and employees; I love going to work every day knowing I have a team that wants to out-perform and excel.
What is on the horizon for Concept Restaurants?
I’m really excited about the new menu debuting this week at Flatiron’s, the Oyster Bar we started at the Ritz four months ago, and celebrating 40 years at Jose Muldoon’s. Can you believe Dave Lux opened Jose’s in 1974? I would say that makes it a bona fide institution. Our immediate focus is to get out of debt (from newer stores and remodels of older locations) and continue to improve from top to bottom.
We are really focused on service and training improvements. Currently my wife Melissa is conducting staff service seminars, and we are investing in new technology to help cut our overhead. If the next two to three years go well, I may start looking at other opportunities, but we took advantage of the real estate bubble back in 2010 — now it’s time to pay the bills!