The Starlite Diner has just opened up for the night, a barrage of festive Christmas lights and festive decoration making the small space at 109 Central Plaza a warm and cozy reprieve from Winter’s chill.
Coming up on nearly a year and a half of operation, the Starlite has slowly but surely made a name for itself by serving fun and filling diner food, in an ever-changing but always welcoming atmosphere — which owner and head cook Brian Palomar wouldn’t have any other way. “We’re always interested in everyone having the greatest experience they can, because good word-of-mouth means way more than all the advertising in the world,” Palomar said. “It’s been a slow and steady build, and sometimes it seems slow, but it’s growing for sure.”
Nestled in the heart of Pueblo’s downtown district, the Starlite has become more than a diner in a short time. For myself and many others, it has become somewhat a meeting place, a bit of a late night safe haven for Pueblo’s artists and musicians.
“We have bit of a younger crowd.” Palomar said.“People involved the art scene, plenty of great weirdos. And of course lot of the bar crowd.”
Can any of that be attributed to the fact that Starlite is open past midnight? Sure, there have got to be possible perils of being a (the) late-night spot.
“You find all types late at night. We see our fair share of crazies sometimes,” he said.
But he doesn’t see them as a problem whatsoever.
“You definitely have to get used to it. But they’re just people. Just drunk ones,” Palomar said with another laugh. “But if they’re coming into the restaurant, it’s because they’re happy and had a good time, and they want to keep their night going a little longer.”
Opening a restaurant in any economy, let alone a somewhat stunted local economy is rough. Profit margins are notoriously narrow, and expenses for small mom-and-pop restaurants are some of the highest of any startup business. Despite the odds, Palomar and the Starlite see their little corner of the world as an opportunity to give Pueblo something a bit out of the norm. “There’s not a lot of profit in it. But we saw a void in the Pueblo community,” Palomar said. “There’s not very many late night options available. I mean, downtown doesn’t have food places open past ten.”
Palomar, who is also part owner of the Downtown Bar with husband Keith Avery, also sees both businesses as a way to connect and help grow Pueblo.
“We are very much into trying to build up Pueblo as a community, and make it as awesome as can be,” Palomar said. “Try and give back to the place we love.”
But no restaurant with even the best of intentions can survive with a sub par menu or offerings.
Luckily for the Starlite, that has never been an issue. Focusing on putting the usual diner burgers-and-fries as standard through the metaphorical ringer, the Starlite’s menu offers a bevy of delectably small burgers and sandwiches, commonly known as sliders, perfect for a late night dinner or reeeealy early breakfast.
Not a one trick pony by any means, the menu at the Starlite is full of great waffles and side dishes. But the real showstopper is the slider itself.
As proof of this, Palomar and his motley crew have taken on the task of creating something they’ve dubbed “Weird Slider of the Week”, an ever-changing offering of eccentric sandwich combinations dreamed up by the staff.
The sliders have strange names like “The Panel Van”, or “the Italian Handbag”, they showcase a unique and fun culinary knack for flavor and concept. And damned if they’re not delicious.
The place is unique, yes. But why a diner?
“I didn’t want to do the same old Mexican or Italian places that seem to keep popping up around town. I guess I wanted to try and be a little different,” Palomar said. “Try and change the view of how food and diners can be presented. I love the challenge.”
It’s great to see a business owner taking risks, even if they are well thought out ones. Palomar also quickly adds that there are definite upsides to marching to the beat of one’s own drum. “As a business person, the advantage we have as a late night place is there’s no competition,” he said with another laugh. “No one wants to stay up as late as we do.”
After a year and a half of late nights and long hours behind a hot grill, one might assume that Palomar has become somewhat weary of his own creation. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“It’s a lot of work. A lot. I thought I would’ve gotten tired of cooking by now,” he said. “But we’re not going anywhere, not any time soon anyway. I’m still enjoying every little bit of it.”