Owners on demise of a Denver food landmark

After 38 years, favored power eatery felled by impact of COVID-19


Formed on a foundation of friendship and the love of good food, after 38 years, Racines is closing its doors for good.

This transition into retirement has been in the works for a while, but wasn’t supposed to happen until January of next year. COVID-19 quickly changed the plans.

There will be no long goodbye for owners, staff or the regular diners. That’s not stopping owners Lee Goodfriend and David Racine from taking a moment to thank their supporters.

Goodfriend and Racine met in 1975 and have been working together ever since.

“That’s the year we first met at Zach’s restaurant at 1480 Humbolt Street. I was a bartender and Lee was a waitperson,” said Racine.

Along with a few other friends and business partners, the two opened three restaurants around town in the decades to follow.

In 1979, Goodfriends opened on Colfax Avenue in Denver.

“We mortgaged everything we had which wasn’t so much. We put the TVs and the stereo system on my Sears credit card. I mortgaged my car which had been paid for and we all did stuff like that. That’s how you did it back then,” said Goodfriend.

In December 1983 the group opened Racines, originally located in the heart of the Golden Triangle neighborhood at Ninth and Bannock. They had a very welcoming philosophy, something they were known for and worked well in all of their locations. It was simple.

“Everybody could come to the restaurant. It didn’t matter. Construction people, theater people, business people. We were trying to create regular clientele, people who would come here more than once. I think over the years we became successful for that,” said Racine.

“Denver wasn’t very diverse back then and I’m not sure anybody even knew what a gay person was,” Goodfriend said. “We found that this is how we were both brought up; to be open and inclusive and we just applied that to our business.”

It’s a philosophy, they say, that has worked for 38 years.

In 2004, Racines relocated to its current location at 650 Sherman St., in a building the partners built and own, near the governor’s mansion and the studios of several Denver TV stations.

It remained a favored spot for power lunches and after-work beverages. On a typical day you might find politicians cutting deals alongside reporters meeting with sources and colleagues celebrating milestones.

Along the way, there was another location to complete the trio of restaurants the group of friends would own. Dixons in Lower Downtown opened in 1997.

“My favorite memory was Dixons during the Democratic Convention (in 2008). The energy downtown, I’ve never seen it like that since. The 16th Street Mall, there were a huge amount of people there and it was so neat. I saw a ton of politicians and celebrities all over the place. It was one of my highs,” said Goodfriend.

“And the low was laying off 125 people on March 16th of this year,” she added, recalling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It never even occurred to me that something like this could happen.

“Even that day, David and I had discussed if we should stay open, thinking, ‘OK it will be closed for a few weeks or a couple of months.’ We never thought it would be like this. It’s been very interesting. It’s just gone,” Goodfriend said.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have cut short their goodbye plans, but certainly not the memories.

Goodfriend and Racine talked of the shock of the past four months. They also shared uplifting stories about the good and strength that exists in the community.

Food from the Racines freezer and pantry were donated to two local nonprofits: We Don’t Waste and SAME Café.

The sale of the Racines building is expected to be complete in January 2021. Between now and then, the partners will continue to empty the space and look for buyers for their restaurant equipment.

After that, look for Goodfriend as a volunteer at SAME Café. Racine said he plans to take an RV road trip and maybe go to see his mom, pending COVID-19’s departure.

“I don’t think anyone could have had better guests from all walks of life than Racines, Goodfriends and Dixons had. I mean it’s been unbelievable. We are lucky, lucky people,” said Goodfriend.

“It’s been a great life,” said Racine.

Both were smiling.

This story is from Rocky Mountain PBS, a nonprofit providing news and information across Colorado over the air and online. Used by permission. For more, and to support Rocky Mountain PBS, visit rmpbs.org.


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