It's not easy to miss the blue and red neon sign that marks the entrance of The Still Whiskey Steaks on the western side of College Avenue. With more than 40 local whiskeys available in house and a selection of steaks marinated with whiskey from Fort Collins’ own Elevation 5003 distillery, the name might seem like a dead give away.
Don’t let that fool you though. While whiskey and steaks are their specialty, new owners Jeff Brown and T.J. Charles want local foodies and diners to know that their restaurant is about much more than that.
Their mission is to provide the high quality food you expect at fancy steakhouse but in a comfortable and distinctly Colorado atmosphere. From the moment you walk in and are greeted by the friendly, flannel-clad staff and seated in the log cabin style interior, it’s clear that this is a place tailored to fit its locale.
A small sign inside the door reads, “Whiskey is better than Kaylee,” and she, a server at the restaurant, cheerfully agrees. Charles, who previously managed the Austin's American Grill location on Harmony Road, and Brown, who managed The Still Whiskey Steaks for two years under the original owner, partnered up and took over ownership of the business in December of 2019.
The two had worked together when Brown began discussing the possibility of transitioning ownership with the restaurant's founder, he knew Charles would be the best man for the job. “I knew I wouldn’t and probably couldn’t do it on my own and T.J. was the only guy that made sense moving forward with that.” Brown says of their partnership. Now the two are using their more-than-forty years of combined restaurant experience to elevate their business and the dining experience they offer. Brown focuses more on guest interactions and hospitality while Charles mostly handles the logistics and back of house business.
Regardless of the current circumstances the duo is optimistic about the potential for success. “We’re excited about being a part of that group of restaurateurs that push Fort Collins to the next level,” Brown says of their position in the local food industry. Much of their work has been establishing the identity of the restaurant. Blending high quality food and service with a fun and approachable atmosphere is how they’re creating what they call a Colorado lifestyle restaurant.
“When you go out to eat and you’re celebrating it’s because you want to have fun,” Brown says of their decision to avoid the sometimes stuffy pretense that can accompany high end restaurants. They don’t plan to stop with just one restaurant either, expanding their business interests is already on the minds of these new owners. “We want to broaden our horizons,” Charles says of their future endeavors, “We’re not opposed to anything, we’ve looked into everything from food trucks to other spaces and different concepts or branching this one out to Denver or somewhere else.” Until the right opportunity comes around however, they’re happy to focus on serving the best possible food and creating the best dining experience they can.
As beef markets are shifting in response to COVID-19 the team is hoping to use other, more stable meat markets to show off what they can do aside from steak. Charles believes they are up to the task, “We’ll still do that and we’ll do it well, but if we can really show people what we can do on a plate with options other than beef, we can capitalize on that.” Fluctuations in beef prices aside, Charles says rounding out the restaurants menu was always a part of their plan. “Our brand doesn’t have to live and die with steak, we can do other things and show off what the guys in back can do and really be diverse.”
Another aspect that keeps The Still Whiskey Steaks special is how they staff the restaurant. “We’ve been really intentional since day one about who we bring in,” Charles says, most of the staff members who’ve moved on have done so in pursuit of their goals and dreams, not to work in another restaurant. Taylor Hedding, a manager at the restaurant, started working there shortly after it initially opened in 2015. “We’ve got a good work-life balance here,” Hedding says of his time with the company, “I’ve worked for a lot of restaurants and it could be a lot worse.” With all of that in mind, leaving is not something Hedding sees in his future. Charles and Brown say that’s a part of their culture and they’re sure to hire people who are not only talented but will be a good member of the team. Brown believes the crew they’ve built really is the best in town, “I would put our staff up against anybody, anywhere, top to bottom.”
While both had known they wanted to eventually own their own restaurant and felt prepared for the challenge, neither could have predicted what their first year of ownership would bring. With the onset of a pandemic, the two complied with state orders and temporarily closed their doors only a few months after they took ownership. Admittedly, there was some fear and uncertainty initially but they’ve made the best of it by updating lighting and decor, adding new menu items and new specialty cocktails. All this provides evidence of the teams determination to hit the ground running now that they've reopened in accordance with local guidelines and are eager for the opportunity to showcase all of their hard work.
According to Charles, this is their time to shine, “With the hospitality driven place that we run, I think this COVID thing is going to give us an opportunity to really double down and show people how great we can be.”