From behind a counter cluttered with frozen yogurt toppings, 20-year-old Lizzy Morrison greets customers at Pueblo West’s Cultura with a bright smile and a “How are y’all doing today?”
She’s an expert of the menu from the green chile ranch dressing to the four different breads, two of them made locally, and she’s not afraid to use her Southern charm to try to sell a brownie.
Back behind the counter in the kitchen a team of three or so, including Jack, Lizzy’s 17-year-old brother, work systematically to put cucumbers on salads and mayonnaise on the focaccia roll sandwiches. They’re quieter than Lizzy, but just as cheerful.
This is what Amy Morrison envisioned when she opened Cultura, located across from the Pueblo West Library on Joe Martinez Blvd. She wanted to blend fresh ingredients, healthy options and personal interaction with the efficiency of a fastfood chain restaurant.
After all, fast food has been a major part of her and her family’s life. The family of six, Jack and Lizzy included, has lived in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Indiana opening up different store locations for a major fastfood franchise.
The franchise was a big part of the family’s life and really made Cultura possible, Amy said. The business provided Amy with a lot of know-how in opening up a store, how to save money, what works and what doesn’t.
Opening restaurants is just natural to the Morrisons, but the clan likes fresh, local ingredients usually not found in most drive-thru eateries.
“I like certain kinds of food. I don’t like cheap stuff,” she said. “You can go anywhere and get fried stuff.”
But you can’t go just anywhere to get pimento cheese sandwich on whole grain bread or a green smoothie. At least not one with local ingredients. The honey that Cultura uses is made in Pueblo County, the yogurt is from a Boulder company and the bread comes from a local bakery.
Additionally, much of what Cultura serves is seasonal. Amy said she can’t wait to stock up on Pueblo green chiles in the fall.
The real adjustment came in the pace of things, she said. Nothing is pre-made or packaged and ready to reheat. All the vegetables are chopped each day.
In terms of money, that’s also much different. The margins in fastfood are much smaller, she said. “For me, I don’t know what the year will bring. It’s been really positive, but we’re not making millions of dollars.”
The café and deli are complete with a drive-thru and a patio that resembles Chipotle. Really, Amy has this chain-restaurant thing down, but her goal isn’t to expand right away. She says she’s open to it, but whatever happens happens.
For now, she and her staff of eight are focusing on becoming a staple for the community, the place they call home.
“It’s important to me because I know it’s important to people here,” she said.
Of course, she knows her location could have brought in more business elsewhere, but a view of Pikes Peak and being across from the library make the most sense. It’s a slower area where families can enjoy the patio and they don’t have to worry about being right next to the street.
And business is good. Better than what she expected after being told that running a small business in Pueblo West requires luck.
The key hasn’t been luck though, Amy says. It’s hard work and supporting a region of local growers and bakeries that make it a good investment for both her family and the community.
“There’s a lot more love that goes into your food here. You have to; it’s personal.”
Photos by Malissa Ahlin