Steamboat Springs It’s one of the most notoriously difficult businesses in which to succeed, and one in which even great ideas often end in failure.
Perhaps that’s what makes Rex Brice and his Steamboat Restaurant Group’s continued success and expansion so exceptional. In a resort community that sees businesses come and go, the Steamboat Restaurant Group keeps on coming.
Brice now is readying for the opening of his fifth restaurant here. The Laundry, in the space formerly occupied by Giovanni’s Ristorante on 11th Street, is scheduled to open in January.
But while the success of the Steamboat Restaurant Group starts with Brice, it also extends far beyond him.
“Working for Rex is great because his primary motivation is his employees, the community and creating opportunities and jobs in this town,” Mazzola’s Majestic Italian Diner general manager Tod “JJ” Johnson said. “He’s not just in it for himself.”
Brice agreed and credits his team with that success.
Steamboat Restaurant Group includes Mazzola’s Majestic Italian Diner (2004), Rex’s American Grill & Bar (2006), Big House Burgers and Bottle Cap Bar (2008), Lil’ House Country Biscuits & Coffee (2009) and Rex’s Events and Catering (2009). He also owns a restaurant consulting business, which he started in 1997.
“If this was all about me, we would have stopped a long time ago,” Brice said. “My idea of success is having success for other people. That’s how we grow.”
The Laundry will be the latest edition. Its name is inspired by the former Steamboat Laundry, which occupied the more than 100-year-old Soda Creek building until 1977.
Noreen Moore, who has owned several companies and has been a business advocate in the Yampa Valley for more than four decades, said Brice is among a group of young and creative entrepreneurs in Steamboat.
“You look at someone like Rex, these are people who make our community grow,” she said. “Rex is creating business that works, creates services and (he) employs people.”
Brice has about 100 employees and expects to add another 25 jobs with The Laundry.
The Laundry will be the latest in a string of Steamboat restaurant openings that have involved extensive remodels or tenant finishes, including Carl’s Tavern in Howelsen Place, Sweetwater Grill in the building formerly occupied by the Yacht Club, Sambi in The Victoria and Truffle Pig in One Steamboat Place.
Brice said The Laundry, which is in the middle of an extensive remodel, would use the building’s existing aesthetics as part of its design. He said that during the demolition, a wall was removed that gave way to an old red brick wall. Old windows also were uncovered. He said those features would be accented as part of the restaurant’s “vintage industrial” décor.
“We’re trying to get it back to what it was once upon a time,” he said.
Mainstreet Steamboat Springs manager Tracy Barnett, who owned Mazzola’s for nearly 20 years before selling it to Brice, said he had a vision at the time for transforming the restaurant. She said each of his subsequent projects has had a unique vision.
Barnett described Brice as strategic in terms of looking for the right opportunities and finding good partners. The Laundry is the latest example.
“This building’s got a lot of character,” Brice said about the old Steamboat Laundry site. “I’ve been looking at this space since ’93, when I moved to town. I’ve just always loved this old building.”
Brice said The Laundry would feature “casual elegant” dining with contemporary American food, shared plates and craft cocktails. Brice envisions a social atmosphere where the bar is part of the dining room and vice versa.
It’s something he’s wanted to do since before he opened Rex’s.
“He knows where he’s going,” Barnett said. “I don’t know where he gets that. Sure, he’s trained (as a chef), but his personality has a lot to do with it. He’s a good role model for any business.”
Scott Fox, who owns Freshies with his wife, Kristy, said there are significant challenges to owning a restaurant in Steamboat Springs, including competition and finding good help. But Fox said Brice continues to meet those challenges because he is so passionate about what he does.
“That’s the key to any business; he thrives on that stuff,” Fox said. “He’s always done a great job with the product they put out, the quality of the product, how they serve it. His places are always clean and updated. I give him a lot of credit for banging them out like he does.”
Brice said he hasn’t been “truly excited” about a project for a long time.
“The space and timing is just right,” he said. “Until now, we had not found a space that matched the concept. I’m excited. The staff is excited. I know a lot of people think I’m crazy for opening a fifth restaurant.”
Brice joked that he named his company Steamboat Restaurant Group before opening even his first restaurant. He called it a self-fulfilling prophecy because owning several restaurants always has been part of his plan.
That’s been clear to his employees, too. Johnson, who will manage The Laundry, wonders what will come next.
“It’s always been — from the very beginning — a growth-oriented company,” he said. “Who knows if it will stop here in Steamboat.”
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com