Restaurant veteran back in business

Posted 7/2/10

Leo Goto, a well-known member of the Denver-area restaurant community, considered retiring in 2008 but just couldn’t stay away from the business. …

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Restaurant veteran back in business


Leo Goto, a well-known member of the Denver-area restaurant community, considered retiring in 2008 but just couldn’t stay away from the business.

So he has opened Leo Goto’s Riverfront Restaurant in Littleton.

“I have been in the restaurant business for 40 years, I love people and, when the great chance to open this place presented itself, retirement went on the back burner,” he said.

Goto has created a restaurant with a quiet atmosphere that offers a menu offering salads, burgers, a steak sandwich and other special dishes. He said he plans to gradually expand the menu to include some of the dishes he is well-known for creating.

He said he has always loved food but he quickly found his role is to be the host, meeting and greeting the customers.

“I am self-taught and I feel my outgoing personality is my stock-in-trade,” he said. “I guess I am good at being a host because I love people and I really enjoy meeting and talking to old friends as well as people new to the restaurant. My philosophy is the customer is always right and my goal is to try to make every one who comes in glad they decided to dine at our restaurant.”

He said he is fortunate to have been able to hire a great staff of young people for his Riverfront restaurant, which is located near the intersection of Santa Fe and Bowles Avenue.

“The staff is great and one of my goals is to offer to teach them all I have learned in four decades in the restaurant business,” he said. “Keeping all that knowledge to myself has no value because a book doesn't help anyone if it sits unopened on a shelf. I also hope I can help those employees who want to eventually go out on their own to start their own restaurant.”

Goto, son of Japanese immigrants, was born in California just before the outbreak of World War II. He recalls how his family, along with all other Japanese, were rounded up after Pearl Harbor.

“Many Japanese went to the camps. In a way, we were fortunate because we were sent to be tenant farmers working a plot of land between Longmont and Greeley,” he said. “After the war, our family came to the Denver area and dad started a lawn service business.”

He graduated from East High School, but was disappointed when he didn’t get a college scholarship. He found a job as a dishwasher at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. That turned out to be an entry way into the restaurant business.

“Trader Vic’s had just opened at the hotel and the chef, who was a friend, told the manager I smiled too much so they should move me from the kitchen to the front of the place,” Goto said. “The manager made me the host and I got promoted to the maitre d’.”

The promotion led to him traveling to a number of cities to help open additional Trader Vic’s Restaurant so the chef could train the kitchen staff while he trained those who worked in the front of the restaurant.

Despite his promotions and success, he said he decided to go out on his own when he learned there was no opportunity for him to ever own an interest in the Trader Vic’s company.

“I didn’t want to work for someone else forever so I left and my partners and I opened Leo’s Place at 16th and Broadway,” Goto said. “It was a very successful restaurant and was long known as the place to go. We had a great staff and a lot of well-known people frequented out restaurant.”

In 1979, Goto and his partners successfully bid for the right to operate the restaurant and the city’s newly-acquired Wellshire Golf Course. Leo’s place closed the next year.

“We have a 20-year lease and I feel that, like Leo’s Place, we created a restaurant that people felt was the place to go,” he said. “I bowed out of the Wellshire in 2008 and, after a short absence, I am back in the restaurant business again.”

He said his goal is to have his restaurant become a meeting place where people come to enjoy the atmosphere and the food as they celebrate special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. He said the building also has facilities for those who want to celebrate on a larger scale with banquets.

The new restaurant, at 2852 W. Bowles Ave., had its grand opening June 21.


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