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Former Airport Control Tower Soon To Be A Punch Bowl Social Experiential Restaurant

Punch Bowl Social, a growing chain of experiential restaurants — complete with table and arcade games, karaoke and bowling to go with its scratch kitchens — is nearing completion on the redevelopment of the former Stapleton air traffic control tower in Denver. The company plans to open the location this summer. The redeveloped location will not only be a new 15K SF restaurant, but will also serve as the new corporate HQ (which will be in the tower itself).

Former Airport Control Tower Soon To Be A Punch Bowl Social Experiential Restaurant
The former Stapleton air traffic control tower, soon to be a Punch Bowl Social

The tower stood vacant for over 20 years until the city approached Punch Bowl Social founder and CEO Robert Thompson about revitalizing the remnant of the old airport. We spoke with Thompson about the project recently. (He will also be speaking at our Denver Retail and Hospitality event on July 27.)

Bisnow: Why did you want to undertake this project?

Thompson: For one thing, we're a Colorado company, and we identify with our Colorado roots. This building is the last vestige of the old Stapleton Airport, so we were interested in helping preserve that. 

But it's also important for Punch Bowl Social as a brand. It helps us solidify ourselves as an iconic brand coming out of Colorado. That's important for us nationally, but especially in Colorado. 

Bisnow: What is the biggest challenge of this kind of adaptive reuse?

Thompson: Converting the space into something suitable for a food and beverage operation. There was no infrastructure of any kind for that usage, so we had to create everything in the context of the existing structure. There wasn't enough power, the water taps were undersized, there was no grease trap — you name it, we had to put it in. 

When you're restoring a building but also repurposing it, there's not only the expense, but the process, which is intensely detailed. We had to be consistent with the historic nature of the building. From the time we started working on it, to the eventual opening, it'll be about two and a half years.

Former Airport Control Tower Soon To Be A Punch Bowl Social Experiential Restaurant
Punch Bowl CEO Robert Thompson

Bisnow: Does the historic aspect of the property add attractiveness to the new use?

Thompson: Yes. That's one of the reasons to do an adaptive reuse, because in the end, you've created something that isn't like anywhere else. It's distinctive. We've done other adaptive reuses. Our original location started out as a grocery store, and our Brooklyn site used to be classic Brooklyn warehouse space, for example. 

Creating a distinctive place is important for the kind of restaurant that we offer — experiential, or "eatertainment." People want more than dining, they want an experience. The setting is part of that. 

Bisnow: What are Punch Bowl's expansion plans overall?

Thompson: We have eight locations up and running now. We're opening five more locations this year, including Stapleton, but also at The Battery in Atlanta — that's part of the mixed-use development next to the new Braves stadium — as well as locations in California and Illinois. The plan is to develop five or six new locations a year. 

A scratch kitchen makes us distinctive in all our locations. It’s very difficult to execute a true scratch kitchen across the country at Punch Bowl Social’s volume. But if we can lead by example, we think more large restaurant groups will aim higher, a goal that's been for the longest time the province of small, local independent restaurant operators.

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