If you go
What: Rex's American Grill & Bar
When: Open daily 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. with happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.
Where: 3190 South Lincoln Ave. in the same building as the Holiday Inn
Steamboat Springs A new restaurant on the edge of town has quickly become a popular place for locals.
"We wanted to have a soft opening," said Rex Brice, who opened Rex's American Grill & Bar on Dec. 1. "It's nice to have the cash flow, but we kind of got thrown to the wolves."
There were 600 people at the restaurant's grand opening Dec. 7, he said.
Brice is used to running busy restaurants in Steamboat.
He bought Mazzola's Italian restaurant in downtown Steamboat in September 2004 and made a lot of changes. There was a renewed emphasis on sticking to Italian dishes at reasonable prices that were made with quality ingredients.
"There is someone down there right now rolling dough, making stuffing and making ravioli," Brice said Wednesday morning. "I took a chance that people would appreciate good food at a reasonable price."
He said sales at Mazzola's increased significantly in the past year.
"The nice thing about sales being up is it means people appreciate it," he said.
Marketing for Rex's has so far been limited to word of mouth. The majority of the customers are locals, and Brice said the restaurant has been "surprisingly busy."
"Steamboat always needs good restaurants," said longtime Steamboat resident Thom Faida, who sat down for lunch at Rex's on Wednesday in a dining room filled with other locals. Brice likes to keep it simple, and he is not a fan of the stuffy atmosphere in some of the fine dining restaurants that he worked in for much of his career.
He went to culinary school in North Carolina and then worked in fine dining restaurants across the United States, including San Francisco, Boston and Florida.
He moved to Steamboat in 1993 where he was the chef at the former Mattie Silks fine dining restaurant in Ski Time Square. Before buying Mazzola's, Brice did restaurant consultant work for six years.
He formed Steamboat Restaurant Group as the parent company for his restaurants.
"Expansion has always been in our business plan," Brice said. "We expanded faster than we expected to, but I always wanted to open a second restaurant to give people an opportunity to have a career with us."
He has a staff of about 60 people at Rex's and 30 at Mazzola's.
Brice said he was approached by Holiday Inn owner Scott Marr to "do something special here," after Marr's former hotel restaurant tenant, Village Inn Restaurant, decided to relocate to Central Park Plaza.
Brice said he could not pass up the opportunity and partnered with Marr to open Rex's.
"I thought of the guy in town that did the best type of product, which we wanted to have here," Marr said.
Mazzola's had gained the respect of locals and was a successful restaurant, but he identified a void in town.
"You'd be foolish to say that we needed another restaurant in town, but a restaurant like this didn't exist," Brice said.
Mazzola's is an Italian restaurant in a downtown basement, and Rex's serves American favorites on the edge of town.
"Really, they're not different," Brice said. "They're similar concepts in that we're taking a very simple theme and dressing it up a little bit. We think people will go out of their way for a good product."
Brice and Marr spent three months remodeling the restaurant, which has a bar and six high-definition televisions.
In addition to the main dining room, there are two meeting rooms.
Like Mazzola's, Brice said he is taking a chance with pricing. He serves certified Angus beef burgers and steaks. Burgers cost $7.50. The Caesar salad dressing recipe is the same one he used at the "stuffy, formal" fine dining restaurants he used to work at. He uses "super eggs," which are three times more expensive than regular eggs.
"All carryout and to-go containers are eco-friendly," Brice said. "All these things cost us a little more money: but we think these things are important, and again, I'm taking a chance that people will appreciate that."