GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - One of Glenwood's oldest dining experiences is continuing on under new ownership, and with a new way of thinking about introducing aspiring restaurateurs to the business.
Partners Henry Zheng and Mike Mercatoris, co-owners of the Zheng Asian Bistro locations in Glenwood Springs and Basalt, recently purchased the Riviera Supper Club at Seventh and Grand in downtown Glenwood from former longtime owner Colleen Stuart.
Stuart had owned and managed the Riviera for most of the last decade, before deciding to sell and head to California to be closer to family, Mercatoris said.
"She approached us a couple of years ago and asked if we'd be interested in buying the restaurant," Mercatoris said. "Colleen was a good customer at Zheng, and we had similar service styles, so it turned out to be a good fit."
Completing the new ownership picture is a relative newcomer to the scene, Tammy Nimmo, who was brought in by Zheng and Mercatoris as a third partner.
Nimmo had managed Zheng Bistro in Basalt for five years and was back at the Woody Creek Tavern where she had previously worked, when Mercatoris approached her about the Riviera deal.
"I had wanted to buy into Zheng," said Nimmo, who at 37 was already a veteran in the food service business. "But I took one look at the Riviera, and after getting to know Colleen I decided it would be a much better fit."
Stuart had reportedly gotten larger offers from outside interests to buy the restaurant and give it a makeover, Mercatoris said.
After he, Stuart and Nimmo talked it over, and with input from a loyal circle of regular customers, they decided the best change would be to keep it pretty much the same.
"That's what we were excited about," Mercatoris said. "What really piqued our interest was the history of this place.
"We also really wanted to honor what Colleen had done there, and start the next chapter," he said.
The relatively seamless change of ownership transpired in late January, with most of the staff staying on. The new head chef is Richie Green after Stuart's former chef decided to return to Mexico.
The Riviera first opened in 1947, and operated as the 702 Supper Club for a few years before the Riviera name was adopted.
Original restaurant owner, Joe Rosa, still owns the building. His son, Tony Rosa, and daughter Angela Hancock, operate Peppo Nino Dining Room, a popular Italian eatery located in the other half of the building.
The two restaurant spaces used to be one in the early days before Peppo Nino opened in the 1960s.
"The family ran it for quite a while before Norm Cook took it over," Tony Rosa said of one of the series of Riviera owners who continued the supper club tradition.
There are stories of women and children having Sunday brunch on one side of the restaurant, but conspicuously missing were the men, who were gathered by the curtain watching the dancing ladies on the other side.
Nimmo said she would like to return some of Rosa's historic pictures to the restaurant walls, including those of the 1950s- and early '60s-era waitresses in their beehive hairdos.
She is also planning some upgrades to the iconic neon Riviera Supper Club sign that sits atop the building, including some pigeon-proofing.
Since the early days the sign has served as a Glenwood Springs landmark ushering visitors into downtown Glenwood Springs from the nearby Interstate 70 across the Colorado River. That, despite attempts by the city to have it taken down over the years.
"I got a couple of threatening letters," Rosa said. "Back in the late '70s, the city wanted to do away with all the signs that didn't meet the new sign code. I argued that the sign was put up legally, and once it's up you shouldn't have to take them down."
And, it's still there to this day.
"I think it's great," Rosa said of the new Riviera ownership. "That's been a great corner for a lot of people for a lot of years, and I think she'll [Nimmo] do well."
Nimmo started her restaurant career working in the trenches at places like Hardee's and Pizza Hut in her native Kansas, before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley in the late 1990s.
"I love the service industry," she said. "Even when I've had other jobs, I always had a service job on the side. I just love the relationships with the staff and the customers, and I like being on my feet and moving a lot."
Nimmo has worked the Roaring Fork Valley's restaurant scene for more than 14 years, including at some of the top Aspen-area restaurants and also bartending at some of the local dives.
All of that built a good foundation for Nimmo's new venture. And her new partners were ready to give her the opportunity.
Finding ways for up-and-coming restaurateurs to make their break is not new for Mercatoris and Zheng.
They're also partners in The Grind, a local-food-focused burger joint just down the way from the Riviera on Seventh Street, where manager/part owner Chris Heinz has been able to make a name for himself over the past year or so.
The Grind is in the process of making a move itself to the former Loft space in the King Mall on Grand Avenue later this spring. More on that later, though.
While much will stay the same at the Riviera, Nimmo said some of the locals who frequent the restaurant were open to some menu changes as well.
Classics remain on the "Old Time Favorites" menu, such as Lobster Ravioli, Riviera Duck and Ahi Tuna Sashimi.
And, of course, there's still the house favorite, "Mabel's Recipe" Prime Rib, named for the late Mabel Trembley who was part of the Riviera crew in the early days.
But chef Green has added some new menu selections.
"Richie has been with us for a couple of years at Zheng, and most recently at the Grind," Mercatoris said. "As soon as he heard we were buying the Riviera, he wanted in.
"Again, we want to give people a chance to learn and build those relationships that Tammy was talking about," he said.
The Riviera is also working with local vendors to bring more fresh produce and other items into the mix, which is an emphasis with many area restaurants these days.
The reviews so far have been rave, for the most part, including several recent posts at TripAdvisor.com.
"Came here based on previous reviews and was not disappointed," wrote one blogger. "We were a little apprehensive when we heard of new owners, but soon were enjoying some very tasty appetizers ... Wife loved the prime rib, and was blown away by the seafood stuffed filet. Had a very nice visit with the new owner while eating a very tasty tiramisu and coffee ..."
Another blogger writes: "Truly the jewel of the restaurant is the prime rib. I really did not expect it to be as good as everyone said. I was blown away!"
Nimmo said the depth and experience of the Riviera staff was another plus in taking over the restaurant.
"They all just knew what to do when we came in, and we learned from them," she said. "And they all just seem to really respect each other, which is crucial in any restaurant."
Nimmo and her husband, Harlan Nimmo, live in Carbondale. Harlan is a firefighter with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, and they are currently expecting their first child.