Resurrection of la Casa Bonita: Local fans save Colorado’s historic “Mexican Disney Land” after bankruptcy and 2020 closure
The "Save Casa Bonita" movement may have actually saved Casa Bonita
Exactly one year to the day after Casa Bonita, was forced to shutter its heavy double doors, a cryptic and mysterious green message box appeared on their oldfangled website.
“Casa Bonita is reopening soon!” it read. “Click back here for more information as it becomes available.”
No one knew what to make of that notice. When Colorado’s iconic “Mexican Disney Land” closed its doors in March of 2020 after the COVID-19 outbreak, many expected this historic restaurant/entertainment establishment to die without a fight. Employees’ paychecks started bouncing soon after they closed. By June, Summit Family Restaurants (one of Casa Bonita’s parent companies) had started missing rent payments. Then, a spurned professional-diver applicant filed a lawsuit against them in November — which seemed like it might be the final nail in the Casa Bonita coffin.
But then, just today, the restaurant reopened their doors to the public. Not for dining, mind you. And without the gorilla or their cliff divers. They’re just opening for free tours at the moment — though the rest is soon to follow, they assure.
The resurrection surprised everyone — despite the mysterious warning that it was going to happen. Certainly, things had not been looking good for Casa Bonita. People around Denver had already started preparing a spot on their ofrendas for the iconic fiesta emporium.
But thanks to a group of truly dedicated (borderline-obsessed) fans and restaurateurs from around Denver, Casa Bonita will live to see another day. The group, Save Casa Bonita started a GoFundMe account in March of this year, to raise money to… well, Save Casa Bonita. Started by Andrew Novick, a life-long Casa Bonita Fan with well-over 350 visits to the restaurant under his belt, started both the LLC and the fundraiser. He and the others involved don’t want Casa Bonita bought by someone who doesn’t respect the rich history and cultural value of that fine establishment.
“Casa Bonita is an important cultural and historic icon and a vibrant piece of the Colorado landscape.” The group’s website reads. “There are many scenarios that could play out and we created this campaign to gather awareness and funding from the community so we can be prepared to act and have influence, whichever direction it goes — we just want to make sure we have a voice.”
The Save Casa Bonita group isn’t actually affiliated with either Summit Family Restaurants or Casa Bonita’s other parent/owner company Star Buffet. Though, several of their members are restaurant owners from the Denver area, including Danny Newman (the owner of My Brother’s Bar), Josh Epps (owner of Jelly Café) and Diana Ayala (founder of Mermaid’s Bakery).
On June 14th these members and others, hosted a “Raise the Flag for Casa Bonita” rally outside of My Brother’s Bar — another beloved Denver institution saved from demolition and gentrification by owner Danny Newman. Today it’s the oldest operating bar in the city, and Newman hopes to help Casa Bonita survive its time of trouble too.
“We just want to make sure that what makes this city unique, historically, maintains,” he told Denver CBS Local.
Recently, Novik and his merry band of Casa Bonita die-hards purchased part of Casa Bonita’s unpaid rent debt, making Save Casa Bonita LLC a creditor itself and making it a party to the bankruptcy actions. As of April, Summit Family Restaurants owed over $350,000 in unpaid fees, to creditors who say they haven’t been paid in over a year.
But now that the restaurant is apparently gearing up to reopen in full as early as August of this year, their reliable stream of customers and income will be flowing again. Surely, people will be lining up at the door to come see cliff diving shows, get chased by a person in a gorilla suit, ride through Black Bart’s cave and of course, to indulge in Casa Bonita’s famous Mexican menu after a year and a half without the opportunity.
If you can’t wait until then, you can at least get a taste: swing by for one of their free tours and order something to-go from their kitchen. They need to sell some 21,277 Casa Chilada Platters, or 18,373 liters of margaritas to pay off their creditors — if you can help them get a start on that, the restaurant will undoubtedly appreciate the business.