Former Owlbear Staff Reopening the Barbecue Joint as Pit Fiend

By January, Karl Fallenius was carried out. Following virtually two a long time of working Owlbear, his well known barbecue joint at 2826 Larimer Avenue, mostly as takeout-only, Fallenius announced that the restaurant would near following company on January 23.

But it never did open up for that past working day. On January 22, as a extended line of Owlbear followers waited for a final taste of barbecue, Fallenius acquired a contact informing him that 1 of his mainstays, Teven Hudgins, was in intensive care. Hudgins handed absent on January 23 “from organ failure due to insufficient oxygen for an prolonged interval,” with abnormal alcohol, cigarette smoking, bodyweight and undiagnosed snooze apnea listed as triggers in a statement released by his relatives soon right after.

The reduction strike the limited-knit crew really hard, remember colleagues Juan Pablo Llano and Michael Graunke. “He was a excellent inspiration…as considerably as how to cook barbecue, but also how to split the rules a very little bit,” Llano says.

“We had a few other cooks that arrived as a result of, but we were the main crew in the course of the pandemic, which was really formative.”

So formative that Llano, Graunke and companion Esteban Gallardo will open their individual barbecue restaurant, Pit Fiend, in the former household of Owlbear later this thirty day period. And Hudgins has motivated them each stage of the way.

“That’s the largest alter. When people converse about how this isn’t really going to be really Owlbear, I think to myself, ‘Well, yeah, you’re correct,'” suggests Llano. “But largely simply because Teven’s not listed here anymore. Which is the largest big difference.”

click on to enlarge The fire has been reignited at 2826 Larimer Street. - MOLLY MARTIN

The hearth has been reignited at 2826 Larimer Road.

Molly Martin

While Hudgins, who moved to Denver from Texas, arrived to Owlbear with a great deal of barbecue know-how, Llano and Graunke had none. “We discovered a great deal and grew as barbecue cooks tremendously, due to the fact we were being at zero. Karl assisted with a ton of that, and we are very grateful for that working experience,” Llano suggests. All three begun operating for Fallenius appropriate all over when Owlbear’s brick-and-mortar locale opened in May 2019 in advance of that, it had operated out of Finn’s Manor and did a series of pop-ups.

“I constantly realized that when this opened, I needed to be aspect of the staff,” Llano remembers. “It was my to start with cooking occupation I was just very fascinated in it from obtaining experimented with the barbecue.” In advance of that, he’d labored a collection of employment, together with health and fitness advising, pizza shipping and delivery and a shorter stint at 14er Brewing.

“[Juan Pablo] was a standard at Finn’s, and when we were being making out the cafe, he kept examining in, asking if there was a place for him on the group,” Fallenius says.

Fallenius had achieved Graunke, who was previously a teacher in Wisconsin but had been performing hospitality gigs on the facet for yrs, when both were doing work at the now-shut Bar Fausto in advance of Owlbear opened. Like Llano, Graunke was vocal about seeking to be portion of the group at the barbecue joint. “He incredibly promptly turned my variety-a person person. He just regularly stepped up to each challenge in entrance of him — and even types not put in front of him,” Fallenius provides, laughing. “I was super lucky to have the two of them on my staff from the get-go.”

Hudgins, it turned out, experienced very likely met Fallenius decades previously, at a barbecue joint again in Austin. “He utilized to hold out at the Blue Ox  — my to start with barbecue career — although we did not thoroughly recognize that right until he’d been operating with me for a bit,” Fallenius claims. “He really cared a whole lot about Owlbear.”

So did prospects, who immediately created Owlbear a go-to in RiNo.

simply click to enlarge Owlbear's brisket will be on the menu at Pit Fiend. - MOLLY MARTIN

Owlbear’s brisket will be on the menu at Pit Fiend.

Molly Martin

But a calendar year into the pandemic, Llano and Graunke, along with Gallardo, who’d labored in a grocery shop in Florida and in the marijuana marketplace in California ahead of transferring to Denver, begun considering about starting up their own food items small business. “The three of us were taking into consideration completely pivoting,” Graunke points out. “We had been planning to do our personal matter, and did not count on it to be barbecue. We were just considering Owlbear would go on without having us.”

But then Fallenius called each individual of the Owlbear cooks to convey to them that he was planning on shutting down for excellent — a final decision pushed by a selection of variables, including operational issues like food prices, but also mental overall health and burnout.

“The tipping stage was when we read [Karl] was thinking about offering the smokers,” Graunke remembers. “We started imagining, ‘We know how to use them….’ Honestly, Teven was a major component of that. Right at the last couple of days, we had been speaking with him about how we could perhaps preserve this going in some form, mainly because none of us ended up ready to be completed cooking barbecue particularly.”

Whilst the aspects of the deal to choose around the Owlbear house have been staying finalized, Llano, Graunke and Gallardo started putting on a series of pop-ups. “It truly is been a seriously exciting way to test out new recipes and ideas that, when you’re undertaking entire-services barbecue, may well not be realistic. But it worries us to develop our horizons as considerably as what we can cook dinner and what we feel snug cooking, and we have gotten some superior tips out of it that might proceed,” Graunke says.

“We want to extend past traditional Texas barbecue,” Llano notes.

“Or even just American barbecue. We have interest in Mexican barbecue and Australian and South African and Korean. There are a whole lot of countries that have barbecue traditions or comparable live-hearth traditions that we want to take a look at,” Graunke adds.

click to enlarge The Pit Fiend crew has been experimenting with recipes at its pop-ups. - MOLLY MARTIN

The Pit Fiend crew has been experimenting with recipes at its pop-ups.

Molly Martin

Pit Fiend’s initial two pop-ups targeted on scorching puppies and sausages. Graunke and Llano “are the ones that started off to do sausage at Owlbear,” Fallenius recalls. “I furnished the components, they delivered the time. They’d come in and make it throughout their free time, which is a testament to how a great deal they treatment.”

Earning sausage is a way to use what would or else be foods squander, but it’s also been a possibility to take a look at new concepts that may make the Pit Fiend menu, like a Colombian blood sausage and an Argentinian choripán sausage served with chimichurri.

The partners have also landed on a new get on pulled pork, completed mojo type with citrus and garlic as a substitute of the Carolina design they did at Owlbear. They also want to carry on to offer you vegan possibilities like jackfruit, anything that resonated with Owlbear’s clients. “The sides will be all vegan and vegetarian, far too, as considerably as achievable,” Graunke notes. The prepare is to have 6 or so meats and 3 veggies on the lasting menu, with other specials rotating often. Combo plates will also be a new providing.

While the trio needs to make Pit Fiend their own, there will be some other holdovers. “The Texas-fashion brisket from Owlbear is in no way going to improve,” Graunke states. Nor will the mac and cheese, which will be dubbed Owlbear Mac. “That is what we truly feel like we type of owe to Owlbear.”

One particular of the difficulties Fallenius claims he confronted was balancing mounting prices with trying to keep menu prices very affordable. And like their mentor, the Pit Fiend partners sense it is really vital to use higher-excellent merchandise like prime beef and Duroc heritage pork. “We never want to change to a decreased high-quality just since it’s cheaper,” Graunke clarifies.

So they’re likely to be battling climbing price ranges, as well. “Even just due to the fact we did our very first brisket pop-up three months back, I think the price has long gone up like eighty cents per pound. It is substantial,” Llano admits, including that they hope the public understands that supporting sustainable methods will come at a cost.

The team is keeping some points the similar. The interior of the place has not adjusted much you will find refreshing paint and some updates in the kitchen area, but “we desired to continue to keep it common and comfortable,” Graunke suggests.

Also sticking about — even extra prominently — is the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) topic. Like Owlbear, “Pit Fiend is a monster in D&D…so our joke is that Pit Fiend is the person that can make the very low-high-quality barbecue, so we want to try out to increase above that and defeat the Pit Fiends,” Graunke clarifies. “It truly is just a fun way to introduce our hobby into our cooking.” A line of sauces in the is effective will also boast D&D monster names.

The logo, way too, usually takes inspiration from the fiery Pit Fiend and will honor Hudgins. It truly is getting designed by Sam Kuhn, an artist at Copperhead Tattoo subsequent door. “Final summer time, [Teven] had a bit of an incident on one of individuals Lime scooters and knocked out his 4 entrance enamel,” Graunke recollects.

simply click to enlarge Teven Hudgins passed away on January 23. - JUAN PABLO LLANO

Teven Hudgins handed away on January 23.

Juan Pablo Llano

“So we asked for that [Sam] leave out the front teeth. It can be extremely delicate, but it’s extremely a lot an homage,” Llano adds. “A whole lot of what we do about right here, we believe of him. Not only simply because of what he presently taught us, but also his voice in our heads telling us, like, ‘Ah, just consider it, see what takes place!’ Just encouraging. He was pretty encouraging…he seriously instilled self-confidence. That was 1 of his largest gifts, and that is what we are trying to do in tackling this large obstacle, is to dwell up to that self-confidence that he had in us.”

Portion of that obstacle is transferring on with out Hudgins while reflecting on lessons learned at Owlbear. Although Fallenius was the sole proprietor, this trio has the benefit of sharing duties. “Holy fuck, I wish I would had people with me,” Fallenius admits. “There was by no means a partnership like that. They’re in a put the place they can definitely support just about every other and maintain each other accountable.”

“We operate as a committee, and we surely verify with each and every other on matters and assistance each and every other out,” Llano states. “Cramming opening a enterprise into five months has been a huge obstacle, but we’re receiving near to the close of it, and it really is remarkable.”

Graunke, who started as the right away cook dinner at Owlbear, typically working from midnight till noon or even later on prior to returning at midnight to do it again, is investigating alternative strategies to guarantee that the group gets suitable breaks and stability in their schedules. “We are hoping to make the barbecue work for us rather of operating ourselves to the bone for the barbecue,” he points out.

A different lesson: studying to take aid. “I failed to know how to request for enable. I failed to know how to get assist when it was available,” Fallenius suggests. “They’ve realized a great deal from my blunders. At the very least I hope they fucking did.”

They did, the associates agree. “1 of the issues we want to find out from Owlbear is how can we acquire some of that stress off of ourselves by accepting help when it truly is available,” Llano states. “Since there are a good deal of folks that want to assistance us. It is really in some cases challenging to accept that aid, but we need to. We’ve found that we are unable to do it on your own. We are not able to do it devoid of other people supporting us, so we’re actually fortunate to have that.”

A great deal of that assist has arrive from the local community. “It really is been really invaluable how much encouragement we’ve gotten and how several individuals are searching out for us,” Llano adds.

Other barbecue joints have been supportive, too. “In Denver, in unique, it is really more collaborative than competitive in the barbecue scene,” Graunke claims. “It really is great to be ready to swap tips and speak store with persons in the discipline and not experience like it really is a bunch of trade strategies, due to the fact barbecue is superior when it is open up-sourced.”

Also rooting for Pit Fiend: Fallenius, even while he’s even now grieving the conclude of Owlbear. “It’ll be seriously terrific to see what they can do there,” he suggests, incorporating that Llano and Graunke “truly are some of the greatest men and women I’ve ever fulfilled. I have all the religion in the planet in people men, and I consider they’re heading to make a thing definitely unique. … As unhappy as I am that it really is not Owlbear, I’m happy it truly is a thing.”

And the group feels Hudgins rooting for them, too. “We invested so much time jointly in this room, so in some cases it is tricky strolling in here. But we truly feel truly motivated and driven to think of [Teven] as smiling down on us,” Llano states.

“He had a lot more to say,” Graunke concludes.
Pit Fiend is located at 2826 Larimer Road and is organizing to open up to the community on Friday, May well 20 it will also be at Leading Taco on June 23. For additional information and facts, pay a visit to