Colfax’s Italian family will be gone for good soon.
"It is kind of sad. I was trying to go a couple more years. I not sure I’m ready to stop," says Judy Duren, the daughter of Dino and Jeannene, who founded Dino’s Italian Food in 1961. Duren has been the brains of the operation since Dino’s death in 2011. She was also the one to make the difficult decision of closing the restaurant.
This homemade restaurant is truly homemade. Black and white photos of family members and friends decorate the walls. Checkered tablecloths cover the tables and that marinara sauce wafting throughout the restaurant. Dino and Jeannene founded Dino’s together with a menu that really hasn’t changed through 11 different presidents. From the pasta to the sauce, to the meatballs and the bread, everything is still made in-house, which is something to brag about—especially when other restaurants change and improve their menus.
Dino’s is still the same classic Italian dining as they were on day one … and will be until September 30.
Much like all of Denver, the dining scene is also going through a period of transition. While new hotspots open every other week, many longtime family-owned restaurants are finding it hard to keep up. Duren made the decision based on rising costs. Aging machinery, including an enormous vat for pasta sauce making and an imported pasta maker, have seen better days. The building has also been in the family for more than 50 years. The roof has taken a lot of damage since 1961. All of these items add up over time; Duren noticed.
She’s still there recalling memories and serving up meatballs for everyone five days a week.
"We have two freezers. We have five walk-in boxes. And therein lies the problem: maintaining all of this. A lot of it is old so it’s so costly. At the stage I am at in life, I am just not willing to take on all the debt and rebuild," she said. Duren isn’t worried about herself so much as she's worried for her staff and regulars.
"I have a lot of people who have been here quite a while," she said. "It’s a hard change for a lot of them."
She hopes that the restaurant industry will welcome her staff with open arms. These aren’t your average people either. Of the 45 people on staff, a dozen have been at Dino’s for over 15 years and this includes waitress/bartender/manager Trish Luna, who has been with Dino’s for two decades.
"It’s pretty hard. It’s the people I’ll miss," said Luna. "I’ll remember every single one of them. A customer gave me his email so we can keep in touch."
Marty Majors grew up with Dino’s. He started going to Dino’s as a teenager in the 60’s. Now, he remembers the good times he had here.
"I just got my driver’s license and we used to stop at Dino’s to grab some pizza after we partied. You know, Dino’s was open till 3 o’clock in the morning. Dino would welcome us at any time as long as you behaved," the 74-year-old remembered. "I never cry, but I might make an exception today."
There’s no special sending off party for Dino’s, but Duren (and staff) hope to see many familiar faces before the final day. Equipment will be auctioned off and developers will start calling with offers. But for now, Duren’s not sure what to do next. One thing’s for sure and it’s that Dino’s Italian Food will be sorely missed.
Do you have any memories of Dino’s? Tell us your story in the comments. or tell your story to the Facebook page where regulars are already adding their memories.