On a recent warm weather Friday afternoon, Old Town restaurants and bars prepared for what they hoped would be a busy start to the weekend. As some customers experiment with dining out, owners are doing everything they can to carefully return to business. Count Sarah Morgan, new owner of Martinis Bistro, among them.
A 23-year restaurant industry veteran, Morgan took over management of the Martinis, 543 Terry St., in 2018. She left a year later to try something new. During her time away, she was considered one of the top two candidates to work for Chip and Joanna Gaines at their Texas-based restaurant, Magnolia Table. Ultimately, going somewhere else didn’t suit her.
“Around Christmas Mark and Carmen (Sample) had sent me a Christmas card. I reached out to them to say ‘hope all is well, hope the next year looks really good for you, I miss the business and the company a ton,’" she said. The Samples responded quickly to start discussions about the sale.
Morgan took over formal ownership of Martinis on July 1. Now when she talks about her hopes for the restaurant, a lot of her statements revolve around what she wants to serve customers and what it’s been like to welcome them back after COVID-19 closures.
At one point in the discussion, Morgan broke away to take a phone call from a regular who missed the restaurant and wanted to celebrate her husband’s birthday. He is immunocompromised, hadn’t gotten out much, and wanted to come to an emptier dining room that evening. Morgan took the time to reassure her and set aside a table.
She and the staff, many of whom worked at Martinis in the past and are returning, hope to host community events. One possibility is hosting pairing dinners such as the one the restaurant had in 2019 to showcase its food with offerings from two Longmont-area distilleries Longtucky Spirits and Sprithound. When the time is right, other anticipated events include a Halloween party, drag shows and fashion parties.
Along with supporting the community through events, Morgan hopes to work with a range of area nonprofits. These include youth-focused and mentorship charities, as well as those connected to the LGBTQ+ community.
Morgan also talks about community when the discussion turns to ingredients from Colorado’s network of food producers. She wants the restaurant to source from as close to the restaurant as possible and showcase passionately grown, local produce on Martinis’ tables.
Ultimately food could be supplied by Morgan’s own farm, 96 Hearts, in Ault. The farm has chickens for eggs and meat, a goat dairy, produce and more.
“Right now, I’m working on a pretty amazing tomato crop that I’m looking forward to getting into the restaurant this season,” she said. Eventually, she’d like the farm to provide for restaurants on a larger scale.
She is confident the results of sourcing local will showcase growers’ passions to diners and will be felt in some of the most standard dishes. She said that long-enjoyed favorites like Bison Bolognese and pork tenderloin featuring Colorado’s Tenderbelly pork with roasted cream corn and an ancho barbecue sauce, will taste brighter and fuller than expected.
“So many people want to know if we’re bringing back the old menu. No. Absolutely no. I’m happy to offer items for a private party, but moving forward things will be different,” she said.
That probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Times are different. Since the restaurant’s earliest days, customer expectations have evolved and diners are requesting vegan options, gluten-free options, dairy-free options, and a general desire to stretch their food experiences. Diners want to understand how great food can taste and how it can enrich their lives. Morgan said she is ready to show them.
Menu items change daily and are flexible enough to be made in standard ways or to meet dietary restrictions. One conversion involves swapping roasted fingerling potatoes for pork in the port tenderloin dish. Dinners can be finished with a range of dessert options including a gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free parfait.