Words by Katie Lew
Photos by Devin Richter
As people all over the country have started to pay more attention to their food sources, the health-conscious population of Colorado Springs has begun to demand more accountability from their food providers. While several restaurants in the downtown area of the city have made a commitment to using more locally-sourced foods, this trend hasn’t quite made its way to the northern part of the city. Mitch Yellen and his team have changed that with Till—a large restaurant and event space that opened its doors on Briargate Boulevard in June, 2016.
Mitch, along with his wife Windsor Yellen, are the owners and creative team behind The Pinery event centers and Garden of the Gods Gourmet, a catering company, café, and market. Both The Pinery and Garden of the Gods Gourmet have won accolades in The Gazette’s Best of Colorado Springs awards in the wedding and catering categories. After only 2 years, the new location of Garden of the Gods Gourmet consistently sits at the top of the Yelp ratings for best restaurant in Colorado Springs—and Executive Chef, Amy Fairbanks, has won many local culinary awards.
Given the success of their event centers and catering company, it’s surprising that the Yellens were new to the event and food industry when they opened The Pinery in Black Forest just over 10 years ago. According to Mitch, one of the secrets to their success was choosing a solid team of employees, including Eric Allen, who they brought in to oversee The Pinery team in 2007. “We started The Pinery in Black Forest, and I quickly realized that I’d gotten in over my head, and the people I had didn’t have the knowledge or wisdom that we needed,” Mitch said. “I brought Eric on pretty fast.” They met Eric through their son, who worked for Eric as a valet at the Broadmoor Resort. Eric is now an important part of their team and serves as the Chief of Operations for Till.
The Yellens believe in treating their employees well and creating a company environment that draws talented people like Eric. Windsor explained, “We have brought on people who are operating where they are gifted, and that makes a difference. When people are working where they’re gifted, it doesn’t feel like a job to them. They love going to work each day.”
Eric expanded on this philosophy by explaining the priorities for their company:
“Our Employees are number one for us, right on the top. Number two is the guest and client. Number three is the community and being a good influence in the community. Number four are our vendors– we only do business with people who believe in the same culture we do. And number five is our investors. Most companies reverse that order, but that is really a short-term plan. We’re in this for the long-term.”
In fact, it was Eric who connected with Head Chef for Till, Sheamus Feeley, a veteran of the farm-to-table movement in Napa Valley. “Sheamus’ background is in high-end restaurants, and then he opened Farmstead in Napa Valley about 15 years ago,” Eric noted. “We’ve really tried to find the level of culinary talent that you find in San Francisco, New York, Nashville, or Portland and bring that to the Springs.”
Sheamus has a background in wood-fire and outdoor cooking and has brought that talent to Till, where most of the cooking is done in wood ovens. Windsor, Mitch’s wife and co-owner in the business, agreed that Sheamus has been an excellent choice for the Till team. “He is such a detail guy,” she marveled. “He’ll come in and tell you that your burger is great, but if your bun was just a little softer so it could smoosh down into the burger more that would be perfect. And you think, ‘Yeah, that makes sense, that’s what was missing.’ ”
This attention to detail is a hallmark of the creation of Till, with every aspect of the restaurant planned carefully and deliberately. Windsor oversaw the interior design of the space and had a very specific vision in mind. “It’s really bright, a lot of windows, very clean and open,” she described. “So you can see where the bread is made, where the pizzas are going in. You can see where the chefs are and through to the wine room. We wanted it to feel fresh and be open so you can smell the cooking, the bread, the food.” Even though the space is 18,000 square feet, the mission is to make everyone walk in and feel welcomed and warm, like walking into a small community coffee shop.
One of the biggest design challenges for the Till space was figuring out how to combine a restaurant and event space in one building. “We wanted it to be a place where someone could pick up a pizza after soccer practice, but would also feel comfortable bringing their spouse for their anniversary or throwing a party,” Windsor said. One way they achieved this balance was the addition of a private dining area and event space that is separate from the main restaurant.
“That are (Northeast Colorado Springs) was so underserved,” Windsor explained. “There was no place to hold an event, no place to host a large party in a space that’s private, let alone nice. Till is now a place where you could have your wedding reception or a party. There’s a part of the building that you could kind of separate off, and it can change into something a little more elegant. “
The concept for the food and menu at Till has been carefully planned, with a special focus on locally-sourced, GMO-free foods. “As we began to research for Till, we started to realize that the food industry was not being honest with the public,” Mitch remembered. “In most states, the food industry doesn’t really have to tell people what’s in their food, but we’re really committed to being honest. We’re not going to be able to be 100% GMO-free at first, but we’re going to try our best.”
Of course, the best way to control the food you are serving is to do as much in-house food production as possible, and according to Eric, that’s exactly how they’re running Till. “Ground sausage, ground hamburger, are done in-house, so that it’s a consistent blend of the same cuts of meat and our burgers taste the same way every time. All our brioche buns are made in-house daily,” he said. In addition, Till has their own meat curing program and a bakery with traditionally baked sourdough loaves. “We met with several bread companies in the San Francisco area, and they wanted to work with us,” Mitch explained. “But out of the blue, [I reconnected with] this baker named Michael Ortelli—whom I’ve known since he was 10 years old. He’s been in the bread business for the last several years and has a deep knowledge of that traditional method of baking. He met with our team and wanted to be involved in this.”
Despite their focus on locally-sourced ingredients and in-house production, the team insists that the food at Till isn’t overpriced. “I’d call the menu ‘gourmet comfort food’,” Eric described. “A lot of people just don’t have time to cook anymore, but they know they want to eat clean and healthy. That’s the market we’re really going to be able to serve.”
While Mitch, Eric, and Windsor are already looking ahead to plans for gourmet delivery and possible expansion, they say their priority is making sure the first Till is a positive addition to the community. “We really want to focus on the Briargate location for now,” Windsor said. “We don’t want to miss any little details. It’s almost like building an athletic team: We’re trying to find the right people to fill the positions that we have. For now, our goal is to support the community in Briargate—to let them know that we want to be there for them and build a partnership.”
The Till partnership is a welcome addition to an area of the Colorado Springs community that enjoys few local dining options.