Foodable Top 25 restaurant Work & Class, located in Denver’s River North (RiNo) neighborhood on Larimer Street, is packaged differently than most concepts we’ve seen on “Table 42” thus far. For one, the Latin-American casual restaurant is adamant about “good food, no fuss,” and includes no bells and whistles. Its to-the-point nature is one of the first things you’ll notice on its website: “quality food, no fuss, no reservations, open at 4 p.m., closed Mondays.”
Another unique feature about Work & Class is its real estate — the restaurant is housed in a shipping container, which was part preparation and part luck, says Delores Tronco, co-owner and “buck stopper.” Tronco, along with fellow co-owners Dana Rodriguez and Tony Maciag, knew that River North was the neighborhood they wanted to be in. They found out about the shipping container project through another friend and local restaurateur while having dinner at his restaurant.
“We were in his place having dinner one night and he said, ‘Actually, I know about this shipping container project,’” says Tronco. “And so the next day, I was at work at another restaurant, I was in the back office, I saw my phone started to ring, and it was the developer and he said, ‘Delores, I hear you’ve got a concept and you’re a great operator; pitch it.’ And I walked out the back door of that other job, pitched my concept, and about a month later, we were signing the lease.”
Entering the industry at 15 years old, perhaps Tronco had been unknowingly preparing for that moment all along.
“I, like a lot of people [in the industry], started young at 15 bussing tables — so about seven years in the business through the time that I finished college,” says Tronco. “And then I walked away for a little bit. And I didn’t walk away because I didn’t love it, I walked away because, like a lot of people, I thought I was supposed to get a ‘real job.’ Little did I know that this is, in fact, the realest job that there is.”
A snug space, Work & Class does have potential challenges with tight quarters to move around — especially for servers — but Tronco turns it into a positive, saying it adds to the fun. “It’s like you’re in a great house party or something.”
When Delores, Dana, and Tony started building out the menu, they nixed the idea of composed entrees, a structure that many restaurants encompass. “There’s lots and lots of restaurants that are doing a $20-$30 entree,” says Tronco. “We felt like that had already been done, so we wanted to break that down into its separate parts and really allow people to choose to eat what they wanted in whatever portion or combination they wanted.”
Meanwhile, in the back of house, we join Dana Rodriguez, who is not only a co-owner but also Work & Class’s executive chef. In the kitchen, she showcases three menu items for us, including crawfish and grits (with roasted poblano grits, white wine, and garlic butter sauce); blue corn empanadas (stuffed with zucchini, squash and Oaxaca cheese, served with a smoked tomato sauce); and adobo lamb sausage (with pickled red onions and dijon mustard). Seasoning on the sausage is often changed out or rotated to keep flavors new, fresh and exciting.
“We always use lamb,” says Rodriguez. “A lot of people don’t like lamb, but when you put it in a sausage, everybody likes it.” The empanadas are made fresh daily, and they’re fried-to-order. The blue corn tortillas keep the empanadas moist.
Like any small operation or “house party,” Work & Class does have its limits, or “house rules” — they aren’t able to accommodate large parties (seven people is max per party) and guests who hibernate at tables after they’re finished are frowned upon, as is the case at most restaurants (though others may not be as upfront about it). But that’s the thing about the team behind Work & Class: they know who they are and are seemingly aware that they might not be everything to everyone. But, like any great house party, they sure know how to set the scene for a memorable night (with the addition of some damn good food and drink).