There’s been a lot of buzz since the summer opening of Colorado Springs’ first Scandinavian restaurant, Smørbrød. And there’s a good chance you’ve seen social media photos of its eponymous open-faced sandwiches. To find out what’s behind the European concept at the Lincoln Center, we sat down with veteran chef and restaurateur Jay Gust, who also owns Pizzeria Rustica and Tapateria, to talk food heritage, culinary tradition and bringing cool, new concepts to the city.
Springs: Why Scandinavian food?
Jay Gust: It’s super fresh, super clean. It is really starting to get major traction in big cities. I just think it’s a cutting edge cuisine that we don’t have in the city. And just in the interim of building Smørbrød, it has been absolutely amazing how many people are coming out of the woodwork who have Scandinavian heritage. And now we’re actually giving something back that they haven’t had in a long time unless they try to make it themselves.
What was your motivation behind Smørbrød?
My former partner Dave Brackett was the one going, “We should really do a Scandinavian place down the road.” He had a lot of really good info on the Scandi cuisine, and from there it was about me researching it more and more and talking to different Scandi folk. It’s nice to be able to do another space that isn’t the norm.
Tell us more about the food.
Scandinavian food, depending on where you are, does change a bit. There are some main staples—it’s very, very seafood oriented. Multiple kinds of fishes, some fish that I’m still trying to source so we can do some really cool, more local stuff. There’s a lot of curing, a lot of pickling, a lot of it is just very fresh, clean flavors.
If you look at everything on this menu, it’s not bogged down. It’s not this confusion cuisine of “Here’s multiple different things from multiple different regions.” This is a Scandi style, and we keep to the Scandi. That approach transcends to all of our restaurants. At the pizzeria we really focus on Italian ingredients, and if not Italian, local. Same thing with the Spanish restaurant, and definitely same thing here. It’s about really trying to find clean, simplistic items from that origin and holding true to that standard.
What’s the unifier behind your three different restaurants?
The sourcing of the ingredients, the mission statement of the business is all the same. It’s always about an assault toward perfection, and about being the best we can be and just holding the highest standards. A couple books have always inspired me: Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter and Lessons in Excellence from Charlie Trotter. They are the mantra of what service standards should be for all restaurants, whether you are a hot dog shop or a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
What does this addition mean for all your restaurants?
I’m not going to let too many cats out of the bag, but there are more projects in the works.