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Barbed Wire Reef: Finding Success In A Pandemic

Barbed Wire Reef: Finding Success In A Pandemic

Jesse Haswell

September 14th, 2020

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The constant beat from the DJ in the corner by the bar sets the mood for the lounge atmosphere at the Barbed Wire Reef restaurant and bar. Owner Rico Aragon began the story of Barbed Wire Reef (BWR) in 2011 using a friend’s pickup truck and trailer which they brought to festivals. After about a year and a half, he worked his way up from that truck and trailer to his first food truck. Then as his popularity grew, one truck became two, two trucks became three, and finally, he was able to realize his goal of opening his own restaurant. From those humble beginnings to the main restaurant, the secondary location at the Edgewater Public Marketplace, and a small fleet of food trucks, this culinary experience has become quite popular with the Denver restaurant and bar crowd. Although, BWR’s growth has not come without its share of challenges.

As with any restaurant, the coordination of opening a location can be quite daunting. Building permits, staff, and ingredient sourcing are difficult enough and anything extra could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. How much more devastating is a worldwide pandemic? For BWR it meant laying off 85% of the staff. However, out of tragedy comes innovation. The dining space at BWR includes two large bay doors that extend out onto the patio opening the entire building. This has the effect of being reminiscent of large seating tents at festivals. Moreover, the bay doors help accommodate ventilation and social distancing. To hear Rico put it, “People are eager to have something to do. We can have good social distancing, a great vibe, good food, good drinks; I think we can make it happen”. That is exactly what they have done with their environment and their cuisine.

For instance, BWR is making this happen with events that will safely allow people to go out and have fun. Recently, BWR and Party Guru Productions hosted an event called Friday Night FUNKtion ft Britton Lee & Que. At the event, guests were encouraged to reserve tables that they would be seated at for the night. When not eating or drinking guests had their masks on. Additionally, a sanitation station was provided. Events like this may become more commonplace as the pandemic continues. Rico hinted at a couple of similar events like a Taco Tuesday or a Wing Wednesday. While the atmosphere is good, the food is better.

To illustrate how good the food is, BWR has a wild game menu which includes: Elk, Venison, Wild Boar, Buffalo, Rattlesnake, and Kangaroo. The rattlesnake comes as a peppery bratwurst garnished with sauerkraut and mustard set on a flaky split-top bun. The rattlesnake brat is tender but has a peppery bite which is highlighted by the sweet but slightly tart pinch of the sauerkraut and the robust heat of the mustard. At the same time, the kangaroo burger stands out in its own way. The burger comes on a soft roll with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, grilled jalapeno, avocado, and Mexican asadero cheese. Surprisingly, kangaroo meat is sweet. Combined with the toppings the burger comes out exquisitely creamy thanks to the cheese and the avocado. There are notes of tart caramelized onions and a touch of heat from the jalapeno

Photos By Jesse Haswell

In summary, the great food, atmosphere, and care for their customers has helped Barbed Wire Reef overcome the challenges of operating in the middle of a pandemic.



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