I love dining “experiences.” Whether at home, on a beach, on a farm, on a hike or in a restaurant the combination of food, drink, atmosphere, people, play, laughter, hospitality, conversation and music can combine to create these memorable experiences. I love old buildings. They have a built in character and story that lend themselves to creating something unique and special. Morphing old buildings into restaurants and bars filled with life is an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience. It is a gift to have the resources and creative minds and energy to bring such dreams and visions to reality. With each buildout comes an incredible opportunity to team up with like minded architects, interior designers, graphic designers, chefs, mixologists and local artisans to bring the visions of a menu, a space and a vibe all together. With each new concept has come an opportunity to travel and be inspired by an industry that continues to reach new levels of creativity, design, and originality.
Vesta, our first restaurant opened in 1997 in Lower Downtown, Denver. I was 25 and driven by blind ambition to open my dream restaurant. Surrounded by young, energetic, passionate, and fun people we created a destination restaurant before Lodo itself became a destination. The term “Vesta Vibe” was coined and the foundation of positive energy, genuine hospitality, philanthropy and fun has paved the way for our company’s success since 1997. Vesta has consistently been recognized as one of Denver’s Best restaurants and remains a staple for pre-parties, engagements, first dates and celebrations. Bold flavors excite my palette. These flavors and a commitment to providing a social and memorable dining experience are the foundation of Vesta. The people, personalities and staff that execute the concept of Vesta have been the key to our success. They personify the “Vesta Vibe” which allows us to express excellence in the most inclusive, accessible, genuine and hospitable way possible.
After the first ten years our veteran management team was ready for a new challenge. In 2006 we opened Steuben’s, named after a historic Boston restaurant that my Great Uncle’s owned in the 1940-s thru the 1960’s. We saw a need in Denver for that everyday, neighborhood diner serving all of our favorite Regional American things to eat: A lobster roll from New England, a Green Chili Cheeseburger from Albuquerque, Fried Chicken and Ribs from the South. The old Dan’s Garage was transformed to create a 60’s modern diner blended with classic café. The prices are right. The cocktails are classic and the scratch kitchen executes crave worthy dishes that stay true to their origin. The Steuben’s Food Truck launched in 2009 helping to bring the food truck phenomenon to Denver and giving the company another great resource for doing outside events and charitable parties. In 2016, the Steuben’s team opened a second location in Olde Town, Arvada, Colorado. We renovated a 25 year old classic diner, into a new and modern version of Steuben’s, bringing our celebrated menu to the West side of town and helping to lead the revitalization of Olde Town.
In 2012, our third concept, Ace Eat Serve, was born in an incredible old and relatively large building, just across the alley from Steuben’s. With space to spare, the idea of incorporating ping pong into the concept was born. Our 12 ping pong tables make Ace an original dining and recreational drinking establishment. The design effort focused on keeping the industrial feel of the old Storz Garage while reusing as much of the original building elements and reclaimed and recycled materials as possible. You’ll see everything from window grating from the old windows, to shipping containers, to salvaged airplane parts, reclaimed barn wood, a wall made from old palette wood, to old apple crates, and countless other creative uses of repurposed materials. It’s these architectural design elements that give Ace its artistic, hand crafted and unique vibe. The outdoor patio with two custom concrete ping pong tables, outdoor bar seating, and picnic tables made of old house decking adds a fourth playground to the many options at Ace. This entire space is pulsing with action and style. Ace’s menu gives diners a taste of the best street food, comfort food, bar food, noodles, soups and snacks of Southeast Asia. It can be spicy and adventurous at times, but still accessible and affordable, perfectly complimenting the energetic and party vibe of Ace.
I am blessed to have an incredible team of passionate people who understand this industry and love it. My wife Jen has been with me since Vesta opened and continues to be an integral part of the design and daily decision making process while doing an incredible job with our two young boys. Vesta, Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve are one big family with nearly 300 members. We work and play together in an environment that encourages fun, parties, creativity, eating, drinking, playing, dancing, philanthropy, community and connecting with people. On the surface, the restaurant worlds of Vesta, Steuben’s, and Ace are entirely different, but a common thread of incredible staff, delicious food and good times make these restaurants sisters. We are incredibly lucky and fortunate to do what we do for a living as we get to see the rewards on the faces of our staff and guests on a daily basis.
Photo Courtesy of Alan Hill Photography
Executive Chef // THACH TRAN
Chef Thach Tran (whose first name is pronounced “Ta”) first fell in love with food on the streets of his birthplace in Saigon, Vietnam. At just seven years old, Thach began washing dishes at his grandmother's noodle restaurants, where she patiently taught him to appreciate the intricacies of good food.
When Thach was nine years old, his grandmother sold her restaurants and moved the family to the U.S., hoping to find a better life. The convenience foods that were Thach’s first introduction to American cuisine left him feeling disappointed and confused. Thach began to study Western cooking, hoping to achieve a better understanding of American cuisine.
In 2010, Thach graduated from the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University. In August of 2017, he became the Executive Chef of Ace Eat Serve in Uptown. The lively dining room, ping-pong hall, bar and patio perfectly complement Thach's creative, interactive and authentically inspired culinary creations. At Ace, Chef Thach has the opportunity to share his passion and experience cooking both Asian and American cuisine with the Denver dining community.
EXECUTIVE PASTRY CHEF // Nadine donovan
Born into a long line of pastry chefs and bakers, Nadine Donovan’s enthusiasm for all things sweet was instilled at an early age while growing up in her hometown of London, Ontario, Canada. Years later, after emigrating to Colorado, Nadine decided to pursue her passion and enrolled in the Baking and Pastry Arts program at Johnson & Wales University where she excelled, graduating Magna Cum Laude. In the evenings, Nadine gained practical experience working in local restaurant kitchens.
Over the next few years, Nadine quickly made a name for herself by designing original pastry programs at some of Denver’s most acclaimed restaurants including Parisi’s, Fuel, and eventually Old Major, where she earned the title of Denver’s Best Pastry Chef by Westword Magazine. This recognition capped a stellar year during which Nadine was named to Zagat’s 30 Under 30 list and was invited to join Denver’s esteemed culinary group, the Denver Five.
Not content with this early success, Nadine embraced the next challenge in her life when she signed on as Executive Pastry Chef for Secret Sauce Food & Beverage, the local restaurant group behind Steuben’s, Ace Eat Serve, and Vesta. Tasked with developing pastry programs for three very different concepts, Nadine and her team create unique, seasonal desserts to compliment each restaurant’s unique identity and cuisine.