Brothers buy Italian Underground in Glenwood Springs

Italian Underground co-owners and brothers Ben and Web Heyliger and their mother Cathy at restaurant in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Freelance / Freelance position

Beneath the Grand Avenue Bridge, beneath the historic Silver Club Building, beyond the Italian Underground’s tables draped in red and white checkered fabric, blue flames seared Ben Heyliger’s pasta pan.

A bottle of Pinot Grigio in hand, Ben’s 25-year-old brother Web ditched wine as the final ingredient for Ben’s pasta sauce.

“It’s our mother’s meat sauce,” said Ben, 29, sounding more than a hint of excitement as he tossed together the ingredients for the skillet. “Well, it’s been in our family for generations, but it’s the one our mother always made for us when we were kids.”

The two brothers bought the Metro from Jeanie and Tim Lucas last year, reopening the restaurant on January 1 with the help of their parents.

“Our dad really encouraged us to take this opportunity,” Web said. “Ben and I have been in the restaurant business for 10 years, and this is the next step – being our own bosses.”

Italian Underground co-owner Ben Heyliger prepares some pasta dishes in the restaurant’s kitchen.
Chelsea Freelance / Freelance position

Their mother and newly appointed restaurant manager, Cathy, said she was initially hesitant when her husband floated the idea.

“But, after thinking about it, I realized it was absolutely something we could do,” Cathy said. “And that’s something we can do together.”

Eager to revive the flavors pioneered by the Underground’s founders, the Durretts, Ben and Web plan to promote a menu that will remind people of simpler times.

“We used to come here when we were kids,” Ben recalls. “And learning that Durrett’s cookbook was still there was the icing on the cake for us buying the business.”

Learn the basics

Prior to the purchase, Ben spent years working front desk at restaurants throughout the Valley and in Breckenridge.

“I was tired of being in front of the house,” he said. “Years ago, I trained with chefs at several restaurants around Glenwood Springs through a program at Colorado Mountain College, and I have fun putting that knowledge to use.”

A self-described “pasta fanatic,” Ben said he plans to experiment with adding different menu items, such as saltimbocca, carbonara and chicken picatta.

Two pasta dishes sit on a table at the Italian Subway in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Freelance / Freelance position

Meanwhile, Web assumes the role of front-end manager.

“I’ve learned more in the past two weeks than in all my previous years combined,” Web said. “There’s so much more I can do than I ever thought possible.”

Prior to buying the Metro, Web dodged managerial positions when pressured to apply by former employers. Not so much because he had no ideas of how to run a section, but rather, Web said that if he was going to be in charge, he wanted things done to his standards – not those of an absent boss.

Web plans to train staff in a versatile way, ensuring efficiency and high quality service to diners.

“I’ve seen it in too many restaurants,” Web said. “Buses that can’t call a customer, waiters that can’t seat a table, etc. If everyone is multi-task trained, it helps keep the front of the house flowing.

Burn the sauce

Back in the kitchen, Ben directed deliveries through the back entrance while discussing the preparation of the night’s meals with José Bustillo, who has worked in the underground kitchen for more than 20 years.

The conversation was in Spanish, so Web returned to his paperwork at a prearranged table near the restaurant’s rustic bar.

Jose Bustillos whips up a pasta dish in the kitchen of the Italian Underground restaurant in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Freelance / Freelance position

“Ben being bilingual has been a huge plus for us,” he noted before scrolling through a spreadsheet.

Like Bustillo, several members of the kitchen team speak mostly Spanish and have worked at the restaurant for years, regardless of changes in ownership. This consistency is the foundation on which Ben said he hopes to build the new Underground menu.

For her role, Cathy said she helps with everything her sons need, whether it’s preparing food, planning payroll or, on at least one occasion, burning the meat sauce. passed down to him by his Italian grandfather, Anselmo.

“The first day I made it here, I burned 20 gallons of sauce,” she recalled with a laugh. “It was 6 p.m. and I had to start over, stay here until 11 p.m. I spent most of the evening crying.”

Kelhi Aguilar helps grate parmesan cheese in the kitchen before dinner service at the Italian Underground restaurant in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Freelance / Freelance position

Regardless of the hiccups, the family said their first month in business together boosted their trust in each other and the business plan.

“The community said they would support us, and of course that’s something you hear all the time, but wow,” Ben said. “That first night, every table was filled with people we knew. And they keep coming back.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at [email protected]

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