Reflecting on a First Year Milestone

By Corey Colombin March 21, 2006

March 15th marks the first anniversary of the opening of the Black Hat Cattle Co., in Kittredge. The opening was not advertised—no “Grand Opening” banner strung across the building—but the people came in droves. And they have kept coming, steadily, since that first day. Dave Rodriguez, the quiet brilliance behind this restaurant, put down stakes by buying and renovating the building that used to house Tivoli Deer right on Highway 74.

After a year as a successful steak house, bar, and family restaurant, I sat down with Dave to hear his thoughts on this first-year adventure. I got the distinct impression that Dave is one of those quiet people, who quietly gets a lot accomplished and inspires everyone around him. Not one to boast, he humbly answered my questions over a round of drinks. “How did you come up with the name?” I asked, stupidly, as I look to the ever-present black cowboy hat on his head. Dave explains that he wanted the name to identify with him (the black hat part) and to let the passerby know what the restaurant was about: Beef.

Dave hails from Montana, a state known for its beef, where his family owned a cattle ranch, raising Black Angus. He spent a good deal of his life being a cowboy—that hat isn’t just for decoration. He explained that he was always attracted to the restaurant business and called upon his knowledge of beef to create the Black Hat Cattle Co. In a setting of warm and casual western elegance, we sat amidst a beautiful collection of western art, both on the walls and on shelves throughout, much coming from Dave’s own personal collection.

I wrangled some more answers from him:

Question: How would you describe your best day?
Answer: A really great day here in the restaurant would be when the place is full and there is food and drink flowing, lively conversation, and laughter—when there is a really good buzz in the room.

Question: Do you have a favorite menu item?
Answer: I’m especially proud of the beef.

On that subject, the beef comes from Ranch Foods Direct, a Colorado company. The cattle are organically fed, hormone and steroid free. The steaks are aged and hand cut, then seared at 1800 degrees, and they swear you can taste the difference. It certainly tasted wonderful to me! My husband and I had the prime rib, which was mouthwatering and cooked to perfection. The quality beef that is the cornerstone of the menu is definitely a draw to patrons, but the menu is diverse, featuring daily specials, such as Veal Parmesan with linguine and sautéed vegetables, and fennel-crusted Albacore Tuna with orange vermouth compound butter, which graced the specials menu on the day of our interview. Aside from the daily specials, Dave attributes much of the restaurant’s success to the tried-and-true menu items, which include Filet Mignon and Prime Rib, Huckleberry Marinated Pork Tenderloin (Montana is famous for its huckleberries), and Honey-Dipped Fried Chicken. Appetizers to start off the meal and rich desserts to finish round out the dining experience. The Black Hat Cattle Co.’s growing wine rack is filled from vineyards across California (Monterey, Sonoma, Santa Barbara) and Australia, and New Zealand, with the most popular wine flying off the rack being the Pinot Noir.

Manager Simon MacKenzie, also a Montana boy, familiar with quality beef, has nothing but nice things to say about the Black Hat Cattle Co. and about Dave Rodriguez, who’s generosity both in the workplace and in the community have earned his respect. Sherry, our waitress and the newest employee, attests that although she has worked in many restaurants, she “absolutely loves” working at the Black Hat Cattle Co. About the frequent requests to open for Sunday brunch, Dave remains “on the fence” and the same goes for the idea of opening for lunch. Menu items aside, in response to whether the Black Hat Cattle Co.’s future will feature expansion, Dave shakes his head and says, “I’m enjoying what I have.”

Humbled by the outpouring of support from the community, Dave was just expressing his heartfelt gratitude for the success of the Black Hat Cattle Co.’s first year when a sweet little girl, wearing a pint-sized black cowboy hat to match his own, stops by the table to say hello. Dave’s face lights up at the welcome interruption, and it becomes clear what he enjoys the most—the people.

With a great location, fabulous menu, loyal and happy patrons, and with a gentleman cowboy at the head of it all, how could the Black Hat Cattle Co. be anything but a grand success? Congratulations, Dave Rodriguez, on a great first year!

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