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Longmont Local: Garden Gate Cafe keeps focus on food, family

For owner Steve Gaibler, the restaurant is both a work of love and intricately connected with those he loves.
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Diners take advantage of a mild fall day on the expanded patio space at Garden Gate Cafe. (Photo by Deborah Cameron)

Independently owned café restaurants are culinary gems. They serve the kind of food you can get in your own kitchen,  but you didn’t have to make it yourself. Food comes with friendly service and the possibility that someone you know is sitting a few tables away. 

Garden Gate Cafe is a textbook example of just such a place.

A block from Longmont High School on Francis Street, Garden Gate it is owned and operated by Steve Gaibler. It’s one of two Garden Gate restaurants in the area, the other being in Niwot’s Cottonwood Square shopping center. 

For Gaibler, the restaurant is both a work of love and intricately connected with those he loves.

The building has been in his family since 1981, when Gaibler’s father ran it as Vellero’s Italian Restaurant. Gaibler got his start working in the restaurant industry in the space, and then met his wife there when he hired her as a server. 

The time in the restaurant led to his marriage, a career in restaurant management and consulting for companies such as Cisco, Shamrock Foods and U.S. Foods, and then back to the space where everything started when he bought it in 2006. Now his kids work there, and his wife helps with design elements. 

Just because he grew up at the restaurant doesn’t mean Gaibler had to keep everything as it always had been. Following his purchase, he evolved the restaurant from Vellero’s to Ragazzi’s and, since 2018, to a second Garden Gate Cafe location. 

Gaibler talked about how he considered the concept when determining how he wanted Regazzi’s to evolve into something else.

“I did a lot of analysis to see what was missing from the market. I felt like a breakfast and lunch café was missing, and I think I was right. We were busy immediately after we opened. We’ve done well,” he said. 

Since opening, the restaurant has been known for its overall good food and a few special dishes. Gaibler said customers enjoy the green chili and crepes, and he praised the restaurant’s kitchen manager, Oscar Gurrolo, who has become like one of the family. 

Whatever is happening behind the scenes, customers like the food. 

Longmont resident Ben Wilson, who recently enjoyed an early morning lunch at the Francis Street location, said he first visited the Niwot restaurant, where he found his favorite menu item —the fried chicken Cobb salad, which he was eating again. 

“I like the quality of the food and the easy atmosphere here,” Wilson said.

Family connection is one thing that remains part of the restaurant in the current generation. Gaibler’s daughter, Hailey, works there while she is attending Colorado State University to pursue a degree in environmental engineering. And she, too, said the connection restaurant staff runs deeper than coworkers.

“The team here is basically family to me,” she said

Hailey Gaibler was quick to speak about one of the things she’s noticed as she works — community support for the restaurant. 

“Longmont people are amazing. People drive by, see the sign, and come in. We’ve gotten so many regulars who know us based on that. They make my day when I go to work,” she said. 

Like many other places, the restaurant is struggling to adapt to COVID-19-related challenges. 

Steve Gaibler said, “The hardest thing I’ve ever done was shutting down for COVID.” 

Then he joked, ”Opening was probably the second hardest.” 

The restaurant has created an outdoor seating area in its parking lot. It also is continuing to work through what may be another wave of COVID-19 related health orders as cases in Boulder County increase.

Gaibler is impressed with how customers are responding during the pandemic. People are generally open to reminders for mask wearing and social distancing. 

“We try to follow the rules but be nice about it,” he said. ”We’re grateful for how supportive everyone has been.”

That kind of community support is not only making COVID-19 easier, it also is boosting the spirits of all who work at Garden Gate. 

“I feel lucky, the town has really embraced what we do,” Gaibler said.