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“It’s bittersweet,” says restaurateur Troy Guard of the recent closure of his first restaurant, TAG. But although 2021 marked the end of the place Guard calls its “baby,” the TAG Restaurant Group, which currently comprises seven brands, will soon expand to nine.
The new concept Tiny Giant Sushi as well as a scaled-down version of Los Chingones called Little Chingones are coming to Milepost Zero, the food hall, which premieres on July 1st in McGregor Square. Grange Hall, Guard’s own food hall project in the former CB & Potts space at 6575 South Greenwood Plaza Boulevard in Greenwood Village, is slated to open in early August.
And that’s not all in Guard’s restaurant empire. A third Bubu location recently opened at 1099 18th Street, FNG in Highland has been temporarily closed and Los Chingones debuts June 25th in Fort Collins at 3541 East Harmony Road, # 100, the former Famous Toastery Space.
We recently met with Guard to talk about everything related to the TAG Restaurant Group.
To close the TAG after a dozen years in Larimer Square:
Troy Guard: Everything I dreamed and hoped of really came true in this restaurant. … We were in the middle of a negotiation with the landlord and then the pandemic struck. Then we got new landlords so we started renegotiating with them. But then we said, “Let’s just focus on our growth drivers who are Guard and Grace, Bubu, HashTAG, Los Chingones, possibly FNG.” So I said, “Okay, let’s go DAY …” Who knows? It could come back in a different area at a later date.
On June 8, opening of the third Bubu location in the Granite Building:
We think the location is great. It’s our first Bubu at street level; both others are underground. And there is a lot of growth in this area. [All the Bubu locations] are six to eight blocks apart, and people won’t walk that far at lunch. So we try to cover the entire city center. We saw that people really, really like this concept. It drives good, it tastes great, and people really enjoy it.
Nobody drinks anything at the FNG bar at the moment; It is expected to reopen in August.
To temporarily close FNG, 3940 West 32nd Avenue, June 15:
[TAG Restaurant Group] had 623 employees on March 16, 2020. To date we have around 210. We had a good team [at FNG]… so we take these great employees and give them jobs at other locations because we are scarce. It’s really about who does the most business. Nobody loses their job; we’re just broadcasting them right now and everyone is super excited because they work in a busier restaurant, work with more professional people, and see something new. Then when we open again in 45 to 60 days, they’ll be all the more inspired and excited.
At the opening of Los Chingones in Fort Collins:
Before the pandemic, we had signed the lease; we had negotiated conditions. And of course we pushed it back with the pandemic. … I think it’s the first time I’ve entered a thrift room. They were always brand new buildouts so we wanted to try that out. This creates incredible savings and we really appreciate the opportunity, and truly the new challenges, to do it this way.
On Tiny Giant, the new concept that opens at Milepost Zero in mid-July (its other Milepost Zero concept, Little Chingones, opens on July 1st along with the Food Hall):
It’s going to be a bit like my old restaurant called TAG Raw Bar on Larimer Square. There are cool dishes inspired by Troy, raw vegetables with seafood and vegetables, but also sushi. We really want to push the take-out there; We have these custom made sushi containers that are really badass. Just really funny things. Some old school sushi, some new school sushi. It will be a smaller menu, maybe two dozen items. … We’re shooting for mid-July.
On the Cyclops logo for Tiny Giant, which bears a clear resemblance to the Cyclops character in the logo for Boulders Daikon:
I have not seen [that]. We actually created the logo ourselves with some pictures. So if it’s too similar, I don’t want that to happen. (The logo is still posted on the Tiny Giant Instagram page.)
About getting started with the beer game with Grange Hall:
We got the core of the CB & Potts beer stuff and we even hired the CB & Potts brewer [Ty Nash]who’s been there for fifteen years – so we’re pretty excited because he knows where everything is, knows the state of the country, and he’s really, really good. He has won several awards at [the Great American Beer Festival]. … We all make draft beers ourselves. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while. We have a lot of great concepts so we can make a beer for Guard and Grace, a beer for [TAG] Burger bar, a beer for Los Chingones, etc. We have already played around with some flavors and ideas and you can turn growlers off; we will also have a canning system.
What Else to Expect at Grange Hall:
We’re building a huge terrace outside, so a great view of the mountains. You can see Pikes Peak on a clear day so it’s pretty awesome; Greenwood Village just dubbed this area an entertainment district. We make ten stands. We take three of them and seven of them are rented out. So let’s do Bubu … and then I’ll try my hand at pizza. And we’ll make burgers; We’re going to have a really mind-boggling veggie burger, and I’m either working on a grass-fed burger or a Wagyu style, and I’ll try to make single and double patties.
On future growth plans:
We want to grow with the other brands, so let’s look at space in Denver and outside Denver now. We’re probably going to Houston next just because we already have another restaurant there [Guard and Grace] and for me, it’s a more business-friendly city for many reasons, including wages for staff, insurance, taxes … it’s also a denser city. It’s an amazing food scene. Obviously Denver is my home and it sucks, but it’s just a little more business friendly down there.
Regarding the wages of the staff:
We are all perfectly fine with the increase in the minimum wage. People need a living wage. We can get by on $ 16 an hour or more. But it’s the tilted servers that keep getting a lot more money. You are already earning at least $ 25 or more per hour; tilted server [in Denver] earn $ 12 an hour plus tips. That’s a lot of money. In Houston, [tipped servers] earn like $ 2.20 an hour. That’s a $ 9 difference. And we still have a viable wage there. I’m for people who make money, but we have to be smart how we do this in order for the restaurants to survive.
To compensate for the increasing running costs of a restaurant:
What we had to do is put a service fee on our checks [at all TAG Restaurant Group concepts] of 3.5 percent. Sixty percent really go to the back of the house, which allows them to increase from at least $ 2 an hour up to as much as $ 6 an hour. The other 40 percent went home to get to-go items, cleaning supplies, gloves, rising food costs, higher taxes from the city, etc. [Guests] were great, super cool … everyone was totally understanding and they are totally wrong.
About his post-pandemic attitude:
I like challenges. For me, it’s the only way to learn. You will face adversity and that is why we have to adapt. We have to keep rolling. People won’t stop eating. So we just have to find a way to do what we do. We do what we can: that’s my motto.
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Molly Martin is Westword’s Food & Drink Editor. She has been writing about the Denver dining scene since 2013 and has eaten her way around town long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito place and spends the nights sipping cocktails on Colfax.