Words: Katie Lew
Photos: Abby Mortenson
When Jon Weber decided to expand his successful San Diego steakhouse, Cowboy Star, to a second location in Colorado Springs he hired a local, Bryan Bradigan, as the General Manager. Why? Because he wanted Cowboy Star to feel authentic to its locality here in Southern Colorado.
“We wanted there to be a strong connection [between the San Diego and Colorado Springs locations], but we didn’t want them to be identical, because we want the Colorado team to be able to put their stamp on things,” Jon explained.
As Jon describes his vision for the Colorado Springs location, it does sound like he is creating a new restaurant experience—one that will appeal specifically to the Colorado Springs community. Even the décor reflects his commitment to the local community, from the walls covered in reclaimed wood from the Waldo Canyon fire, to a patio that showcases spectacular views of Pikes Peak.
So why Colorado Springs? The menu is a showcase for locally sourced meat, produce and, most notably, beers from local breweries.
“The amazing local beer culture was a big draw for us in Colorado Springs,” Jon said. “We wanted to make sure to have a larger tap system than we had at the other restaurant because we want to be able to offer a lot of those local options.”
Local brews were also the inspiration behind a popular dinner series offered at Cowboy Star that pairs local beers with specially created dishes.
“We’ve had six dinners in collaboration with local breweries this summer, and this winter we’ll go on to do a series with Brown Spirits,” Jon explained. “They are held in a private dining space: We have the brewers there and the chefs talking about the food. It’s super interactive and fun.”
Nearly all of the meat served at Cowboy Star is sourced locally, including pork from Mcdonald Family Farms in Brush. The restaurant brings in a whole hog from the farm every few weeks and the on-site butcher utilizes every part of the animal. Jon is committed to using only humanely raised meat and regularly visits the ranches and processing facilities to see how the animals are treated.
“We could serve commodity beef and we’d make a lot more money, but the animal husbandry that is involved with producing our beef is very important to us,” he said. “We’ve gone to the ranches, we’ve seen the process and even gone to the slaughterhouses to see how that is done. It’s a tough trip in some ways. It can be hard to see that. But if you want to do this right, it’s something you need to experience for yourself.”
Having a butcher on-site inspired Jon to open a small butcher shop attached to the restaurant so that patrons can purchase some of the high-quality meats they enjoy while dining. Here, customers can buy the house-made sausage, a locally raised steak or even custom order, hard-to-find cuts of meat.
“People call and make special orders a lot at our other location,” Jon noted. “Especially during the holidays—they’ll want a dry-aged rib roast or something, and it’s not a problem because we already have the resources and connections with ranches and purveyors.”
Despite this focus on quality meats, Jon didn’t originally see his restaurant concept as a steakhouse.
“We very hesitantly went with the name ‘steakhouse’,” he explained. “When we first opened, we had the title ‘contemporary American cuisine’, because the front of the menu - with salads and other mains - is very important to us.” As the quality steaks started to garner attention, the restaurant won several awards for best steakhouse in San Diego, and Jon realized it would be confusing to resist the title any longer.
Still, Jon insists that where his culinary team really shines is in the creation of new salads, fish dishes and other entrees. Some of the best dishes at Cowboy Star are menu items like Goat Cheese Ravioli, made in-house and drizzled with spinach garlic puree, or a Pan-Roasted Trout, caught right here in Colorado.
“That’s what separates us from other steakhouses: Our focus on modern, innovative dishes,” he said. “We are committed to using fresh ingredients. Our freezer is basically just used for ice cream. It’s the size of a regular kitchen freezer, because all our ingredients are fresh.”
This decision to use only the freshest ingredients extends to the use of herbs grown right on the restaurant’s patio.
The concept behind Cowboy Star is a new experience for Southern Colorado. Jon’s vision for the decor of the restaurant is rooted in his love for vintage Hollywood and old Western movies.
“I was inspired by figures like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Tom Mix,” Jon said. “These were people who, during the day, were out on a shoot and in the rough and tumble, six-shooter, good guy vs. bad buy [Westerns]—but as soon as the day was over, they’re back in Hollywood, having a steak dinner, going to the cabaret and drinking champagne. That is the epitome of what I was looking for.”
When describing Cowboy Star, Jon often uses the term “escape”, and entering the restaurant does indeed feel like entering another era. Large, comfortable booths invite diners to relax and settle in for a leisurely meal, while the lack of TV screens (even in the bar) adds to the feeling of timeless glamour.
General Manager Bryan Bradigan has worked in the Colorado Springs restaurant industry for over 20 years, but he agrees that Cowboy Star is a unique dining experience in our area.
“You know, it’s different.,” Bryan said. “It’s not a corporate restaurant, not a chain restaurant. It’s got it’s own local kind of feel.”
Bryan cites the cocktail program as another unique aspect that sets the restaurant apart. In keeping with the vintage Hollywood theme, Cowboy Star is reviving some old-time cocktails made with simple, quality ingredients.
“Our Old Fashioned is a good example”, said Jon. “Originally the Old Fashioned was bitters, a little bit of sugar and bourbon or rye. Then, at some point, they started muddling oranges or cherries in there, maybe a splash of soda water, and it became something totally different. What we’ve done is to take it back to the original recipe and keep it really simple.”
While the jump from San Diego to Colorado Springs might not seem like an obvious choice, Jon says that the two cities have a lot in common.
“The main economic drivers in this town are tourism, tech, and military, similar to San Diego,” he said.
But for Jon, the deciding factor was the mountain views.
“We fell in love with this space, we fell in love with the location and the view of the mountains. It was a done deal after we saw that view; we knew that this was the right spot,” Jon remembered. “In order to do something like this, you really have to fall in love, and we were in love with this location.”
This love for Colorado is embedded in every detail of Cowboy Star, making it a valuable and unique addition to the community.
5198 North Nevade Avenue, Suite 150
Colorado Springs, CO 80918