Dive-ing headfirst into a dream

Mario’s owners branch out with new culinary offering

Chris Dickey

Times Publisher

 

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a bar and a pub, Danny and Kerry Lefebvre have created an answer for you right here in Gunnison. It’s called The Dive.

“There’s a huge difference, in my opinion,” Danny explained Monday morning, while a team of workers swirled around his trademark spiked mohawk and tattooed arms in preparation for The Dive’s official grand opening. “A bar is a place where you have fried pickles and wings. A pub is a restaurant with great food, that also has a great bar.”

In a sense, The Dive is in Danny’s DNA. His mother is from Ireland, the land of the neighborhood pub, and he completed his culinary schooling with an internship outside of Dublin.

In another sense, The Dive has been a dream of the Lefebvres, who met at Western State Colorado University, since they married 21 years ago. At the outset of their careers, they’d talk about some day opening their own place, brainstorm themes and menu items.

But first came restaurant management work in Fort Collins. Then, almost eight years ago, came Mario’s. That’s when the Lefebvres purchased Gunnison’s legendary pizza and pasta restaurant from the Rais family.

The first thing you do when you take over a restaurant with a 50-year history is keep everything the same.

“We love Mario’s,” Kerry said. “It’s so important to us and to the community. There’s so much history here. We’re not going to forget that, and we’re not going to change that.”

Over time, the Lefebvres thought about expanding or remodeling Mario’s. Danny, eager to dig in to his culinary roots, would occasionally introduce a new dinner special or two. But when people are used to ordering a Mario’s Combo pizza and a Half & Half salad, well, old habits die hard.

An opportunity arose when John Roberts Motorworks moved their car dealership to the west edge of town, freeing up a vacant lot adjacent to Mario’s. The Lefebvres bought it, and the wheels beneath their long-dormant idea began to slowly turn again.

“We ended up revisiting our talks from when we were first married,” Danny explained. “We focused on what we enjoy going out for, and what we would enjoy cooking.”

There were plenty of “R&D” missions to Denver, Minneapolis (where Danny is from), Chicago and other cities to get fresh tastes of the modern pub dining experience. And then they homed in on their vision, tasting and testing … over and over again.

Take, for example, The Dive hamburger. It’s made with Scanga beef from Salida, mixed with a small percentage of pork to add flavor and juiciness. The bun is Challah, a Jewish bread. They top the burger with a homemade bacon marmalade and smoked gouda cheese, and flavor everything with “Dive spice.” They make their own ketchup to boot.

The Dive offers traditional fish and chips and a buttermilk chicken sandwich, while also venturing into the not-so-traditional realm with ratatouille (a seasonal veggie type of stew), gnocchi (potato dumpling) and poutine (fries covered with beef gravy and cheese curds).

There is a kids menu, with PB&Js and a grilled cheese sandwich, side salads and other snacks and desserts — including beignets.

The goal is to keep it simple and fresh, so they can make everything in-house, with some seasonal variety.

The kitchen itself is perhaps the most unique feature of The Dive. It’s a long and interesting story — involving a blown budget, a teenage daughter quick with a smartphone search and some out-of-the-box thinking — that’s best told in person by Danny or Kerry.

A pint of quality craft beer and a nice variety of bourbon and other whiskeys are the signatures of The Dive’s bar.

“We want it to be a comfortable, friendly place where everyone feels welcome,” insists Kerry.

The Lefebvres are quick to point out how many people were instrumental in bringing The Dive to life, starting with Chad Zummach at Gunnison Bank & Trust. They heap praise on Matt Ventura and his team at M Ventura Design Build. And they give major props to their staff, which has grown to a 65-person strong team.

They’ve always believed in the “rising tide” theory of Gunnison nightlife — that the more options there are, the better it’ll be for everybody. And they are proud to be a part of the ongoing evolution of an increasingly vibrant downtown Gunnison.

“It’s not every day that you get to create something totally new, and not everyone is lucky enough to realize a dream,” Kerry said. “We feel very fortunate. And we are extremely thankful to this community and grateful for everyone who helped us get here.”  

 

(Chris Dickey can be reached at 970.641.1414 or publisher@gunnisontimes.com.)

 

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