Another popular Denver-area restaurant is expanding to Colorado Springs.

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant that opened 25 years ago in Boulder and has added locations in Denver’s LoDo, Glendale, Fort Collins and Kansas City, Mo., will open this fall in the former Il Vicino space at 11 S. Tejon St. in downtown. Il Vicino closed in April.

Dave Query, chef and founder of Boulder-based parent company Big Red F Restaurant Group, said he’s looked for a Springs location for more than 20 years and was attracted by the city’s booming downtown.

Among the area’s activity: the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum is scheduled to open next year; a 10,000-seat outdoor soccer stadium is on the drawing board; one hotel is about to open, two have broken ground and a fourth is planned; and several apartment projects have opened in recent years or are under construction.

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“It’s a very vibrant downtown,” Query said. “New hotels, new Olympic center, lots of good things happening.”

The Il Vicino space, he added, mimics Jax’s original Boulder location— both are 2,800 square feet.

“It allows us to ... do something small and functional and do what we do best, which is just a funky little seafood joint, rather than coming down and opening a big space.”

John Winsor, of Olive Real Estate Group who marketed the Il Vicino space, has known Query for two decades and worked with him to find a local site for Jax.

“That’s really in the heart of the commercial activity for him,” Winsor said of the former Il Vicino. “When you consider the exciting growth that’s happening with the Olympic Museum, with the stadium, the new hotels … all the new residential, it just gets better and better.”

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Colorado Springs, in general, is on the radar screens of many Denver business people, Query added.

” I think Colorado Springs has been on the move and on the grow for years now,” he said. “Now, everybody in Denver knows it.”

Snooze an A.M. Eatery became the latest Denver restaurant to expand to the Springs when it opened on the north side in April. Others include Oskar Blues Grill & Brew; Atomic Cowboy, Fat Sully’s Pizza and Denver Biscuit Co, restaurant and bar concepts that operate under one roof; and Dos Santos Taqueria de Mexico, which opened in the same building that houses Atomic Cowboy.

Jax’s menu — whose fresh seafood items include oysters, lobster rolls, crab and several types of fish — has the feel of an upscale restaurant. Yet Query says many items are priced to be affordable for all diners.

“You can come in with 20 bucks in your pocket at a Jax and have a big old time,” he said. “Eat oysters and get a beer and a sandwich .”

Jax also is committed to “sustainable seafood,” Query said. The restaurant’s efforts — sometimes rewriting menus and recipes — have been recognized by the Monterey Bay, Calif., Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. That program provides guidelines for the sale and consumption of seafood to avoid depleting species from the world’s oceans.

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“Our oceans are getting hammered,” Query said. “It’s not like a cornfield where you can replant every spring. ... It’s our job to protect the oceans and do the right thing and practice this sustainable fishing mentality.”

Jax will join several locally owned and operated restaurants along Tejon and in downtown. Query said he likes the competition; everybody succeeds when there’s a critical mass in one place.

“You park your car and you walk from here to there, and you have this thriving restaurant district, this thriving business district of restaurants and bars and retail stores,” he said. “We always gravitate towards where there’s a lot of restaurants.”

In addition to Jax, the Big Red F Restaurant Group’s brands feature Lola Coastal Mexican, the West End Tavern, Centro Mexican Kitchen, the Post Brewing Co. and Zolo Grill.

Business writer, Colorado Springs Gazette

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