When Holly Arnold Kinney’s father passed away in 2006, she became sole owner of The Fort, her family’s award-winning restaurant in Morrison famous for its unique Native American and mountain man cuisine. They call it “New Foods of the Old West.”
Being proprietress of the nationally acclaimed restaurant is Kinney’s earned legacy. She grew up in the adobe structure built in 1962 by her parents, Sam and Elizabeth, as the family home. Avid historians and admirers of Santa Fe architecture, they designed “an adobe castle” in the likeness of Bent’s Old Fort, an outpost on the Santa Fe Trail from 1833-1849. It’s now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When money ran out during construction, the bank suggested running a business in the lower level to raise funds. A history museum came to mind, but they needed something more to generate daily income. A restaurant seemed a natural choice since both parents enjoyed cooking.
“Both of my parents were incredible cooks. Each of them had family cookbooks dating back to the 1800s. My mom’s from the south, my dad’s from Pennsylvania,” said Kinney. “They passed down recipes to continue their cultures in our family. The history of food was very important. For the restaurant, they researched what was eaten at Bent’s Fort, read diaries of settlers, trappers and traders to see what foods were popular in the 1800s and what the Indian tribes ate. These ancient foods formed the basis of our menu: buffalo, quail, elk, trout, corn, beans and squash. The Fort serves more than 80,000 buffalo dishes every year.”
When, at age 9, Kinney asked her father for an allowance, he gave her a job instead. She worked in the restaurant in every capacity: salad girl, tortilla maker, food runner. She honed her culinary knowledge on trips with her parents abroad. Her destiny was on course.
But the path met a detour. The restaurant business was a strain on the marriage, and her parents got divorced in 1967. Kinney went to live with her father’s sister, Mary, in California, then Pennsylvania where she finished high school and started college at Penn State. After two years, she got married and had a son, Oren. That didn’t work out so Kinney and Oren moved back to Denver. By then, a single mom in her 20s, Kinney got a job in advertising, the other business she knew from childhood (Sam Arnold had a successful advertising firm). She parlayed her knowledge of both industries into Arnold Media Services, her own company specializing in food products and restaurants with such international clients as Nestle, Toblerone and Colavita.
In the meantime, her father remarried and retired, selling The Fort to his manager. Then the recession of the 1980s threw The Fort into foreclosure. As holder of the note, Arnold took back the restaurant and turned it into the profitable venture it is today.
By 1997, with his health failing, Arnold put the restaurant up for sale. Kinney’s new husband Jeremy told her, “Someone will buy it and put up houses. You’ve got to buy it. It’s your destiny, it’s in your blood. You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t.”
Remembering her parents’ breakup, she hesitated, but then became partners with her father in 1999 and took over completely after he died. She continues to research the history of food in The American Heritage Cookbook. For example, last year, she learned Thomas Jefferson discovered macaroni and cheese pudding made with Gruyere cheese in France. When he couldn’t get Gruyere at home, he substituted cheddar and served it at the White House. “We decided to recreate it with Gruyere, adding Hatch green chiles and serving it in a cast iron pot bubbling with Parmigiano-Reggiano,” Kinney said. Other dishes named for Colorado historical figures are General Armijo’s Colorado lamb T-bones, elk chops St. Vrain, and the signature bowl of the wife of Kit Carson, a staple since the 60s.
Keeping alive her mother’s long ago idea for a living history museum, Kinney, along with Arnold and his sister founded the nonprofit Tesoro Cultural Center at The Fort in 1999 and now sits on its board. Its mission: to educate the public about the 19th century Southwest and share its treasures. The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is its primary supporter.
“We created the Center to teach school kids about the many cultures that traded at Bent’s Fort and about the founding of Colorado,” said Kinney. “Teachers don’t have time to research like we do. When we show Spanish kids how their ancestors contributed to our culture, they want to learn more; it makes them feel important in this country. We are an advocate for native tourism.”
Besides school groups, social groups like book clubs can make reservations to tour The Fort and learn its history though interactive displays led by period-dressed docents. Cost is $10 for two hours. Next June the Center will host the prestigious Native American Intertribal Powwow.
Kinney’s mother came back into their life in time to see one of the powwows at the Center. She asked that her ashes be buried there. “My family is all there together in death,” Kinney said. “Through endowment, The Fort will carry on as a living legacy.” And her marriage is still strong.
Awards, Accolades and Actions
Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year since 2006
Open Table’s Top 100 Restaurants in America (2017)
Travel Network Food Nation (2016)
Holly Arnold Kinney
Inducted into the Colorado Tourism/Visit Denver Hall of Fame (2017)
Outstanding Business Woman of the Year Denver Business Journal (2016)
National Medal for Historic Preservation from Daughters of the American Revolution (2015)
Served on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board under President Obama (2013-15); History Colorado Board (2014-2016); Colorado Restaurant Board (2005-2016), Distinguished Service Award (2010)
Founded Colorado Les Dames D’Escoffier, president (2005-2012)
Published three award-winning books
The Fort Restaurant
P.O. Box 569
Morrison, CO 80465
Denver native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning freelance journalist covering travel, lifestyles and restaurants for magazines and websites. Her travel blog Sleepin’ Around is on GoWorldTravel.com. Other current publications include The Sunday Telegraph’s (London) website, About Town Magazine, MTN Town Magazine and Colorado Parent magazine.
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