Growing up in the restaurant industry lets you to take creative risks. For Michelle Trujillo, it’s a family tradition. Her mother, originally from Kobe, Japan, was the first chef and restaurant owner to bring sushi to Boulder in 1979. After several years managing her mom’s Kobe An restaurant in Lakewood, Michelle decided to make a move on her own by introducing the traditional yet rare Japanese hot-pot soup called “shabu, shabu” (swish, swish) to a new generation of diners populating Denver’s restaurant scene.
Michelle’s dream location was 1500-1800 square feet of space where she could share her love of this healthy fondue meal in a fun, interactive way. “I got a call from a broker looking for a Japanese restaurant to fill a 5000sf space in downtown Denver which was too big,” recalled Michelle. “One week later, the broker called back and told me about this shell of a building on Osage Street in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood. It needed a lot of work but was located in the area where my husband grew up. We knew it was the right place.”
To renovate their new restaurant space to reflect their culinary vision, Michelle and her husband, Marco Trujillo, needed financing to supplement family investment in their startup. They knew the special cooking tables where diners would prepare their fondue dishes would be costly to build. Despite years of experience running a family-owned restaurant and excellent credit, Michelle and Marco couldn’t secure a bank loan. In 2013, they were referred by Chase Bank to Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) where they got the additional financing needed to finish construction on their new venue, Kobe An LoHi, which opened in July 2014.
Since opening, Michelle has added sushi to the menu prepared by her husband, Marco, who trained with Japanese chefs in Los Angeles. She’s also hired more fulltime kitchen staff and another sushi chef due to the popularity of the venue’s niche cuisine. “Starting a business is never easy,” Michelle commented. “You work really hard those first few years.” Which she continues to do, getting hands-on help from CEF’s Business Acceleration Services team of consultants to turnaround her accounting practices with help from Quickbooks.
Now Michelle has more time to experiment and introduce signature sushi combinations, specialty drinks and seasonal small plates to her menu made from locally-sourced foods, as well as updating the indoor/outdoor dining areas with décor designed to transport guests to another world. Like taking old family traditions and refreshing them with a modern twist which can be risky but also trendsetting and well-received in the media as Denver’s foodie trend grows.
“It’s nice that CEF looks at the bigger picture and looked at us as people,” said Michelle. “The banks wouldn’t deal with us at all. It’s so hard to do anything extra special as a small business but CEF helped us craft the unique vision we had for our restaurant.”