As a child, Ty Fulcher would raid his parents’ pantry, assemble bowls of cereal and carrots and sell the food back to them.
He’s no longer a kid in Gig Harbor, Wash., but hospitality still plays a huge part in his life as the owner of Social, recently ranked the country’s number-one speakeasy on Yelp, as well as Union Bar & Soda Fountain, Rodizio Grill and The Melting Pot.
His career actually started in 2006, not in his parents’ pantry, but as a server, bartender manager and then sommelier at The Melting Pot.
Fulcher says he always knew restaurants were his future. His years earning anthropology and history degrees at CSU were only the vehicle. Time abroad in Italy, studying food and wine, were the first right turn in his journey into restaurant superstardom. But it really began after he pitched the idea for Social to his Melting Pot boss, Ryan Houdek; they opened the Prohibition-era inspired cocktail bar as partners in 2013.
Fulcher and Houdek’s company, Old Town Restaurant Group, next developed Union Bar & Soda Fountain, a modern take on the American soda fountain and diner, which opened in 2018.
Old Town has polished its celebrity status as the model for Disneyland’s Main Street, USA. It makes some sense, then, that a street clock illuminates a staircase that leads to Social.
Social’s twilight atmosphere bathes some seating in lime green while others are submerged in darkness. Wooden chandeliers resplendent with feathers and beads summon thoughts of New Orleans voodoo queens and Prohibition’s days of bathtub gin. These concepts inspire the reimagined historic cocktails featured on the menu.
“We’re a bunch of geeks at Social,” he says. “We love talking about new spirits. But we’re in the business of experiences. Hospitality is how you make someone feel, not just due to booze.”
The other aspect of his four restaurants’ success is how they cover the diverse demographics of people who see Old Town as Fort Collins’ entertainment destination.
“Parts of the area are the college crowd, others are young professionals, but with it being a neighborhood with a lot of housing options, we see all ages downtown,” he says. “With the soda fountain, Union skews toward families but the bar program attracts the over-21 set. It also brings in higher age groups who are nostalgic about soda fountains when they were kids. And Rodizio and Melting Pot tend to be celebration restaurants.”
He doesn’t think there’s much missing, which is why he, like so many businesspeople who contribute to Old Town’s vibrancy, lives and works there.
Bianca Fisher drove up U.S. 85 in Greeley with tears in her eyes.
She was transferring from Pepperdine and was born in South Africa and moved to Canada at age 6. Greeley looked like another world.
“It’s such a different landscape, the agriculture, the industries, I asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’” she recalls.
Pepperdine was expensive, and she knew that getting a degree there would mire her in debt. She considered teaching and knew UNC had a great, affordable teaching program. Since she was paying for her own degree, she made the move to Greeley.
Despite her intention to get her degree and move back to big cities, 17 years later, the Executive Director of Greeley’s Downtown Development Authority says she and husband Neil fell in love with the community.
“We’re rooted, involved, engaged and we live and work here,” she says.
Her degree in Human Services took a trajectory when she landed a part-time administrative job in 2009 with the newly created DDA. Director Pam Bricker then took her under her expansive wing and named her associate director with the intention of having her take over. Today, she, Alison Hamling and Karen Baumgartner are a rockstar trio of doers running the DDA.
She says it’s an exciting time for Greeley: Within the DDA’s 55-block boundary, 37 new businesses have opened since 2021, and private development projects should add 505 residential units and even more retail by the end of 2023.
“It’s the moment you want to hold with great care in shaping how it grows,” she says. “We want to honor the rich agricultural heritage and wonderful diversity of the community, while welcoming technology businesses and other industries.”
A landmark project was the DoubleTree Hotel at Lincoln Park, thanks to a group of local investors. Distinctive art installations along 8th Avenue, the downtown’s main thoroughfare, enhanced an eclectic mix of buildings that now house new restaurants, retail and offices. The Richardson family, operating as Richmark, began purchasing properties along that street in 2015 and developed upscale apartments meant for young professionals.
Fisher also credits UNC President Andy Feinstein’s perspective of encouraging student and faculty engagement with downtown; the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, helmed by Jamie Henning, for instilling excitement about future projects; and the key city leadership under new city manager Raymond Lee, whose team is addressing needs as diverse as housing for families and young professionals, homelessness and high-speed internet.
“In our society and culture, current needs like this have become functions of government,” she says.
Neil Fisher, brewer and co-owner of WeldWerks Brewing Co. in Greeley, thinks WeldWerks gets more credit than it deserves. But he gets why beer makes headlines.
“We’re one small piece in the puzzle, but beer is fun, exciting and sexy,” he says. “We’re using our platform to shift Greeley’s narrative, and people pay attention to beer.”
Neil, the other half of the Fisher power couple that is shaping Greeley’s downtown, grew up in North Carolina and was studying physics at UNC Chapel Hill when he was offered a full-time position in Greeley by a nonprofit, Reach, where he made home repairs for low-income families.
His interest in working for housing nonprofits followed a year volunteering with Americorp for Habitat for Humanity. “Housing stability was a big part of what I wanted to pursue as a career,” Fisher says.
By February 2008, he’d met Bianca, and they married that December.
His brewing career started in his garage. When his friend and craft beer fan Colin Jones challenged Fisher to open a brewery if he medaled at the 2014 Big Beers Homebrew Competition—and then when he won two medals—the pair opened WeldWerks Brewing in 2015. By 2018, they were able to buy the downtown Greeley property, a former car dealership on 8th Avenue.
Since March 2020, WeldWerks has produced between 25-30 batches a week—translating to 13,000 barrels in 2022. This year will see the biggest expansion to date, doubling to a 30-barrel brewhouse that will also add a new boiler and fermenters.
Today they have over 60 employees and their kitchen, the Annex at WeldWerks, opened in February 2022.
The expansion allows WeldWerks to continue producing new beers to add to their flagship, Juicy Bits IPA, as well as its popular Medianoches, fruited sours, sweet stouts and classic lagers, like their new Mexican variety. He also plans on a quarterly seasonal beer with longer availability.
Neil believes the DDA brings stakeholders together to figure out how to make Greeley unique, while preserving its agricultural heritage. Events like the WeldWerks Invitational, which landed on the national top 10 list for brewers’ events this year—with all proceeds going to the brewery’s nonprofit supporting Habitat for Humanity’s Hope Springs project—are his way of pushing downtown Greeley’s initiatives.
The Experience Builder
Windsor developer Martin Lind’s soft spot for agriculture has transformed Northern Colorado into master planned communities, including Water Valley and RainDance. The communities derive character from that “fun on the farm” feeling he remembers from his childhood.
Water Valley was designed on an aquatic master plan with built-in marinas and high-end homes with their own docks, an uncommon feature on Colorado’s plains. RainDance was designed around active working farms and orchards, and at Ted’s Sweetwater Grill during fishing season, the pond is stocked with approximately 1,000 rainbow trout. Anglers of any age can take their catch home after the restaurant cleans it and puts it on ice, or the grill can beer-batter the fish and serve it up.
Golf is a huge part of Lind’s idea of fun: both Water Valley and RainDance have courses. RainDance National Resort & Golf’s agriculture-themed course was included in the Top 10 New Global Courses of 2022 by Kingdom Magazine.
But hanging on to the history of why his family and so many others settled here is the backstory that drives Lind to shape NOCO’s future.
His grandfather William, one of the cohort of Germans from Russia, came to Windsor in the early 1900s to work the beet fields and factory for the Great Western Sugar Company. His father, Ted (for whom the grill is named), farmed and worked in the sugar factory in the winter, too, while his mother earned a college degree and taught music in Windsor. Teaching music, Lind says, provided income for their family of five kids because farming didn’t do it.
After one semester of college in the early ‘80s, Lind started farming, but two back-to-back hailstorms in 1983-84 crushed his crops. With no ability to go forward, they auctioned off the farm equipment; his dad was able to save the farm where he grew up.
Lind began making real estate deals, which required a lot of risk and borrowing, he says. He partnered with Denver Bronco Steve Watson, buying Watson out in 2000 when Lind’s land development took an aggressive turn as he focused on golf courses and master planned communities.
“Land development reminded me a lot of farming,” he says. “You can’t control the end result, but you just work harder and lean into each issue.”
He recalls his first project, Westlake Shopping Center in Greeley, as baptism by fire.
“It was an odd project, a 20-acre parcel with prairie dogs that we re-zoned from apartments to build King Soopers,” he says. “Even with a voter referendum and lawsuit by area residents attempting to halt the development, it ended up a dynamic, glorious project for Greeley.”
Water Valley was the first Windsor master planned community. The first homes were put in by 1995, followed by a golf course in 1998 and a second in 2007. Lind’s vision for RainDance became a reality in 2017.
He’s had some fun, too, like when Colorado Eagles owner Ralph Backstrom approached him in 2002 to become co-owner of the hockey team. By 2017, when the Eagles moved to the American Hockey League, Lind was the team’s sole owner. The Eagles became a farm team for the Avalanche in the 2018-19 season.
With that ownership, his development company became more active around the Budweiser Events Center, an area he’s always considered the downtown of NOCO.
“As a kid, we had to go to Denver for everything, from tractor parts to sports teams. The need to go to Denver is way less now,” he says.
His next project, a water park hotel and convention center off I-25 near the Budweiser Events Center, will be full of activities that appeal to all ages.
Add that to the already existing marinas, fishing, food and beverages, dinner cruises at Water Valley or his newest project, Hoedown Hill, a tubing hill outfitted with Magic Carpets to whisk tubers up to the top that’s expected to open in 2023, and you’ll find Lind has his finger on it.