Bobby and Danette Stuckey met on a blind date. By date No. 3, they were heading to Europe. Twenty years and four award-winning restaurants later, the pair is like the food they serve: beautiful, inviting and leaving you wanting more. They met through mutual friend Max Martinez, owner of Max Women’s Clothing stores. Danette modeled for Martinez, and was in his Denver location one day when the retailer announced that he had met her future husband, referring of course to Bobby Stuckey. Martinez was spot-on. Fast forward 20 years when I sat down with the Stuckey sat their James Beard award-winning restaurant, Frasca. We talked about the state of restaurants during a pandemic, Bobby’s role in getting the Restaurant Act before Congress, and the couple’s enduring love. A full cup, to say the least. One thing has not changed in two decades, Danette says. “Bobby is a force. His energy makes him otherworldly. I often wonder what planet he is from. He is so determined.”When Frasca first opened, it had 15 employees. At its pre-pandemic peak, Frasca, Tavernetta, Pizzeria Locale and Sunday Vinyl employed 200 people. The success is due in part to the sensational menus inspired by Northern Italy, where Bobby and Danette spend time, but also can be attributed to their passion for hospitality, which makes dining at their restaurants much more than just an evening out. In 2019, The James Beard Foundation recognized Frasca’s dedication to hospitality with an outstanding service award.
And of course, there is the wine, also recognized with a James Beard award in 2013. Bobby Stuckey is one of the 269 master sommeliers in the world. In 2007, he and his long-time business partner, chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, launched their own wine, Scarpetta, which is served in all of their restaurants.
According to Bobby Stuckey, “Hospitality is a craft, and it is something we constantly talk about, meditate on and practice.” He explains that it is about being a self-reflective human, something the Stuckeys live and breathe. Each day before the restaurants open, they go over the guest list and discuss anything they know about their upcoming clients and how they can make each person feel special. At the end of each evening, they dissect the night, the highlights and what they learned. Danette spends most of her time at Frasca, while Bobby often heads to Denver to check in with Tavernetta and Sunday Vinyl. The Denver expansion was led by their fourth partner, Peter Hoglund. Like all of their employees, he started in the front of the house as a glass polisher. True hospitality means being tuned in to every part of the experience. Danette laughs at the thought that she has become the mother figure to all of the employees, but her attention to detail and to understanding the emotional well-being of staff and the guests alike bring an authenticity to their restaurants. Her warmth is something you can feel from the moment you enter their space.
But the talk of dining on tagliatelle and drinking fine wine seems like a distant memory for the Stuckeys, who, like so many, had their world turned upside-down in 2020. When the pandemic first hit, there were some silver linings. The pair had more quiet evenings together listening to music in their Boulder home. Before the pandemic, Sundays were their only day off and it was their sacred time together. Bobby would go for a morning run and then they would make breakfast. An omelet or pancakes, always accompanied by bacon.
Danette admits that they rarely cook dinner. When they lived in Napa, and Bobby was working at the acclaimed French Laundry, there were pomegranate trees, lavender and artichoke plants in their yard. In those days, Danette says they did more grilling fish from the local farmer's markets and making fresh salads with the ingredients in their yard. In Colorado, they usually go out and have dinner with friends, but COVID-19 made that nearly impossible.
Just days after the stay-at-home order went into effect in March 2020, Bobby co-founded the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which began as states were shutting down indoor dining. The goal of the coalition was to give a voice to privately-owned restaurants that rarely had a voice at the table. Stuckey, along with some of his extraordinary culinary colleagues, including Tom Colicchio, Will Guidara (of Eleven Madison Park), Caroline Styne, and Erika Polmar and many others went to work. Together they spearheaded The RESTAURANTS (Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed To Survive) Act with the goal to establish a $120 billion fund within the U.S. Treasury that restaurants could use to cover payroll, supplies and rent/mortgage costs by receiving grants equivalent to their revenue loss from 2019 to 2020.
Thanksgiving week, I spoke to Danette by phone just after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis shut indoor dining down in several Colorado counties. She said the new rules mean that they had to pivot once again and set up outdoor dining options. “We feel that Gov. Polis has been a great leader through this pandemic,” Danette said. “It’s the lack of leadership on the federal level that has left restaurants, the largest private-sector job creator, without a safety net.”
The National Restaurant Association estimates that more than 110,000 U.S. restaurants have closed permanently or long-term because of the economic effects of the pandemic. With almost 12,000 dining establishments in Colorado, that equates to thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue. Bobby’s new mission to help the workers and the independent restaurants survive means he starts each day early, calling anyone who might help raise awareness for this cause.
“Bobby is not just fighting for his own livelihood,” Danette says, “he is fighting for the millions of restaurant jobs across the country.” Despite the efforts, the relief fund was not included in Congress’s most recent stimulus package.
Just after the new year, I spoke to the Stuckeys again.
With 2020 behind them, the pair sees a day when they can get on an airplane and head to the Collio region of Italy. For years they have been going to the same location in Friuli Venezia Giulia. The proprietors are now a part of the Stuckeys’ extended family. They eat at La Subida at the inn and walk on the trails in the nearby forest. The restaurants in that region have had a strong influence on the Frasca Hospitality Group.
When I asked Bobby and Danette what they missed most in 2020, without hesitation they said friends. Their friends around the world and friends right here in Colorado. They look forward to the day they can sit at a bar in one of their local spots and enjoy a good glass of wine. Maybe a wine from Northern Rhone or a Burgundy from Marquis d’Angerville, or a glass of their own Scarpetta wine.
These simple pleasures weren’t so simple in 2020. For those of us who long to enjoy the brilliantly crafted food at the Stuckeys’ restaurants, we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their passion for their restaurants is intact. They are also solid in their dedication to independent restaurants across the country and to giving a voice to the millions of people who work in the industry. Their passion for wine, food and for each other is contagious, and with that we raise a glass, virtual or in person, to Bobby and Danette Stuckey.
Lindsey Schwartz is an award-winning television producer and writer, having produced for “48 Hours,” “Dateline NBC” and CBS News. In 2020, she wrote and produced two episodes of a new series for MSNBC called “What’s Eating America.” She won a regional Emmy in 2020 for her writing on Rocky Mountain PBS’ “Heartbreak to Hope,” which marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
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