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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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
“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
“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
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
“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
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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