Interview by Sarah Ford
Longtime Denver locals know our city’s quickly-evolving culinary scene is spelling the end for many classic eateries. Last year saw the end of the 45-year-old Broker Restaurant, the Wazee Supper Club, and Famous Pizza. So far this year, we are saying goodbye to 9th Door Downtown and the attempt to reincarnate the Campus Lounge.
But after 45 years in the Cherry Creek neighborhood, the iconic Cherry Cricket is not just surviving — it’s growing. In April the Cherry Cricket opened a second location in the Ballpark neighborhood, in the former home of Breck on Blake (RIP).
The Cherry Cricket is notorious for its Cricket Burgers, but even the most desired menu items at other restaurants haven’t spared them from closure. What has set the Cherry Cricket apart to keep it a go-to for locals even as new dining options grow increasingly diverse?
The Denver VOICE sat down with Cherry Cricket General Manager Kathy Huddleson to pick her brain about Cherry Cricket’s success, their place in Denver, and how investment in the community gives back.
DV: Congratulations on opening your second location! How did you balance between keeping the atmosphere of your Cherry Creek location and this new location? How do you balance the tradition of the Cherry Cricket with the culture of the Ballpark neighborhood?
KH: We all talked about the fact that we couldn’t replicate the building over there and the neighborhood in general. So we looked at what the Cherry Cricket was. We feel like we’re a community, we are hospitality. We also have the same menu, so we have the same offerings as over there which kind of gives it that Cherry Cricket feel. It’s just a warm and welcoming environment, so that’s what we tried to replicate.
DV: You do have some different options here, like late-night options.
KH: Yes, there are a few things here and there. Some of our drinks and cocktails and specials of the day are different. Here one of the biggest things is our late-night (menu). We are open until 2:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and Friday and Saturday until 3:00 a.m. so you can come and get food. That was more of a demographic decision. The environment around here is a little bit different than Cherry Creek North, so we’re trying to accommodate those people who live in this area — RiNo and LoDo. They’re the late-night crowd!
DV: So many Denver staples have shut down in the past few years. Why do you think the Cherry Cricket has not only been able to continue business but to continue growing and changing?
KH: There again I think it’s our guests and the support we get from them. I don’t think we go one day without being thankful for the people who walk through our doors. I consider us fortunate. I don’t know if there’s necessarily a reason for it. I just know we’re very grateful for all the support that we get and have had for a few decades. We’re hoping the same for this one as well.
DV: How do you balance the things that have worked for you since 1945 while everything about Denver is growing and changing so rapidly? How do you balance tradition and the new aspects of the city?
KH: We have kind of morphed sometimes, I guess you could say. It’s more about listening to the guest. Listening to the people who come in the door. Many people that come in here like to say that they have ownership and we like to give them the ownership. What cries out is something that’s been on the menu a long time in our Cricket Burgers. But it’s also something that people keep coming back for. So it’s those types of things that we will continue to accommodate and listen to our guests and community.
DV: Denver’s culinary scene seems to really be expanding in the past few years. Do you change what you are doing with your menu to embrace those evolving tastes, or do you maintain the classics that have worked for you for so long?
KH: We have been, for the past few years, focusing on those favorites that have maybe gone out of style, as some might say. Taking those and making them better or re-working them to fit today’s means and what our guests are looking for and what they expect. Our beverage menu is the same way, it’s not just the food. We’ve actually grown to have a lot of fancy (...) well, maybe not fancy, but very tasty cocktails. And this is something we’ll be implementing in both locations. But a lot of our drink menus and wine lists vary.
DV: You’ve been here since 1997 and had an extensive resume before that. In coming to a place as long-running and prominent as the Cherry Cricket what are some of the lessons you’ve learned?
KH: Hospitality. When I say hospitality, I guess that is … that should filter down from me to our staff, to our guests, to the food to what we serve, to the beverages that we serve. That’s in our community. Just like the VOICE serves the community, we like to notice that and be involved in our community. It’s about the people. The food comes second.
DV: That’s the perfect segue because we’ve talked so much about the community. Are there ways the Cherry Cricket is involved with giving back to the community?
KH: The most recent is Project Angel Heart, which I am proud to say we’ve been involved with through their Dining Out For Life program for 24 years. And now we can offer two locations. We do a lot of school dine backs with local schools here. We’ll be seeking those out at this location as well to see who we can give back to specifically in this area.
When we had the fire last year (which closed the original Cherry Creek location for five months) we were able to reach out even more and do a food drive through Metro Caring and that continues to grow each year. We had our second annual when we were finally open and this year will be the third. We’ve also worked with Urban Peak, and MaxFund we support — we do a golf tournament every year.
We want to continue doing all of that. Some of it will be all around, Denver-based, and some of it will be in specific locations like in this area and Cherry Creek.
DV: With so much history behind you, what do you think I’ll see when I walk into this restaurant in 10 years?
KH: I hope when you walk into this location you’ll have the same warm feeling that you get now, and maybe a few additional locations. And I don’t know if I can say any more on that! ■