Bingo Burger (Anthony Settipani for PULP)

Exporting the ‘Loved in Pueblo’ brands

Chile, coffee, and restaurants are the current wave of Pueblo brands that are testing the market if to Pueblo’s loved brands are exportable across Colorado and the West.

A walk through The Walter’s Brewing Company’s reconstructed taproom paints a picture of Pueblo’s long-lost prosperity when the city was a hub of interstate commerce throughout the southwestern United States and beyond.

Since reviving the brewery in 2014, co-owner Andy Sanchez has been slowly but steadily building awareness of the Walter brand throughout Colorado, particularly Southern Colorado. Walter’s beer is served on tap at the Crafty Canary in Walsenburg and can be bought by the can in stores ranging from Canon City to La Junta.

Now, thanks to a recently-signed deal with Whole Foods, Walter’s fans can expect to find both Walter’s Premium Pre-Prohibition American Lager and Walter’s Pueblo Chile Beer on the shelves of every Whole Foods in the state starting as soon as next week.

“We’ve done the Pueblo Chile Beer as long as we’ve been doing beer,” says Sanchez, who, along with Walter’s head brewer Troy Rahner, is readying to ramp up production in a big way.

The Walter’s-Whole Foods deal is just the latest in a string of new developments that show Pueblo’s influence is once more beginning to stretch northward throughout the state of Colorado and beyond.

Governor Jared Polis’s social media announcement earlier this month touching off an interstate Twitter debate with New Mexico stated that Pueblo chiles are “widely acknowledged as the best chile in the world.” All of which is reason enough for the chile to soon be available in Whole Foods stores throughout Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, and Utah.

“New Mexico stores will unfortunately not be offering the best chile and will instead keep offering inferior New Mexico chile,” the governor noted, no doubt with a rueful and perplexed shake of the head.

It’s not just within the retail world that Pueblo’s economic and cultural footprint is beginning to expand northward.

Jorge’s Sombrero, perhaps most well-known as the restaurant twice visited by former President Barack Obama while on the campaign trail, spent half a million dollars to open its second location in Old Colorado City in 2012. Solar Roast Coffee, which recently expanded into its second Pueblo location on Northern Avenue, is in the process of furthering that growth by opening a third location, this time in downtown Colorado Springs.

Solar Roast Coffee opened their 3rd store in Colorado Springs in August 2019. (Solar Roast Coffee | Facebook)

They’re following in the footsteps of (and moving next door to) veteran Pueblo chef and restaurateur Richard Warner who in 2013 announced he was opening a second Bingo Burger location on Bijou and Tejon in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. He did so during a period when growth in Pueblo was slow-moving and stagnant.

“That was the impetus to start a business in Colorado Springs,” Warner says. “We saw a lot more potential, a lot more growth, a lot more disposable income.”

That trend has since been turned on its head as Warner estimates he has seen a 25% growth in business at his Pueblo location over the past year, even as competition for downtown Colorado Springs has grown fiercer with the entrance of big-name Denver restaurant groups onto the scene.

“People know it: Pueblo is being discovered, and the Springs in an even bigger way,” he says. “The Denver market is just becoming too expensive for people. So now if people don’t have to be living in that market, or they can work from home or whatever, they’re moving to much more affordable communities.”

The restaurant’s Legendary Burgers, which in Pueblo feature appropriately local monikers such as Goat Hill, The Junction, and Bessemer, were given a northern makeover in name only—and Bingo Burger has far from forgotten its roots. The walls of the restaurant’s Colorado Springs location are decorated in paintings and posters showcasing Pueblo Chile, and many of Warner’s ingredients are sourced locally down south or from elsewhere throughout the state.

“No one sources locally quite like we do,” Warner says. “We get our meat from Colorado, our buns from Colorado, our Pueblo chiles come from here in town. Our ice cream is from Hopscotch Bakery [though only at the Pueblo location].”

Bingo Burger in Pueblo is one of the early “Pueblo brands” that made the jump to bigger markets. (Anthony Settipani for PULP)

Two of the restaurant’s cheeses come from Pueblo’s Springside Cheese shop—the Springside aged cheddar and Pueblo Chile jack. Even Bingo Burger’s Sriracha Ketchup dipping sauce is made from Jojo’s Sriracha which is cooked up in eastern Pueblo County.

“We love telling our customers we know where our food comes from, so sourcing locally is really important to us,” Warner continues.

Between the high-traffic location and the company’s existing brand awareness from Colorado Springs customers who had eaten at Bingo Burger in Pueblo, Warner says that much of the work building a following outside of Pueblo had already been done before the expansion. With that taken care of, the challenge became identifying the differences in taste between the two cities.

Warner started ramping up the restaurant’s gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options right off the bat in response to greater local demand for each of those categories, but says he was surprised by some of the other changes he’s noticed over the course of running the business—most notably his Colorado Springs clientele’s lower tolerance for spice.

“It’s funny, they don’t like the same kind of food as the Pueblo Chile-heads do,” he says. “They don’t like hot food as much as we do down here in Pueblo.”

Warner estimates that the Pueblo location still sells 30-40% more sandwiches that are built around its signature Bingo Burger patty, which has chopped Pueblo chiles mixed directly into the beef than he does at the Colorado Springs location.

Where will the future lead? For Sanchez, Pueblo’s history as an industrious and prosperous American city is critical to where it will go in the future.

Andy Sanchez, owner of Walter’s Beer, has found success getting their Walter’s Original and their Pueblo Chile beers into stores around Colorado. (Anthony Settipani for PULP).

In the years since reviving the Walter franchise, he’s steadily transformed the walls of his taproom on Oneida Street into a living museum of the city’s brewing heritage. Baseball caps and other Walter-brand merchandise hang alongside an archival photo of the building back when it was owned by the W.J. Lemp Brewing Company from St. Louis that brewed beer in Pueblo until Prohibition.

“I’ve always been involved with the historical aspects of Pueblo,” Sanchez says. “My grandparents used to serve Walter’s [at their tavern] in North Avondale.”

On the back wall of the main taproom hangs a picture of the family that started it all.

The Walter family immigrated from Germany to the United States in the late 1800’s, initially settling in Wisconsin but quickly spreading throughout the Midwest. By 1889, the family had five full-scale breweries—one for each of the five Walter brothers. Four of the brothers had stayed in Wisconsin, but one brother decided to take his portion of the business out west.

“Martin [Walter] was heading out to California to buy a brewery there, but he saw how prosperous Pueblo was, and he settled here,” Sanchez says.

Pueblo’s original Walter’s brewery located on the east side closed in 1975 and remained that way until Sanchez opened the new location with the blessing of the Walter family itself.

“The history of Pueblo is key to what we do in the future,” Sanchez says. “As Puebloans, we’re

very proud of what we do. And we know that what we do reflects throughout the state.”