Grand Valley restaurant reinvented

Cinnamon Grill
Opie Johnson, general manager of Cinnamon Grill, pours a beer at the full-service bar at the Grand Junction restaurant. Johnson oversee an operation that’s changed from a franchise family diner into a unique operation serving healthy fare made with local ingredients. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Opie Johnson has helped reinvent a Grand Junction restaurant, turning what was a franchise diner into a unique operation that serves fare with a thoroughly local flavor.

“We’re the absolute epitome of a local eatery,” says Johnson, general manager of Cinnamon Grill.

Formerly a Black Bear Diner, the restaurant has dropped the franchise and its prescribed fare, renovated the interior and reopened with a new name and new menu that features local foods in addition to local beers and wines.

“It’s fresh, local flavor every day,” Johnson says.

While Black Bear Diner was always busy for breakfast, Johnson says the operation didn’t fare as well against other chain restaurants in the area for lunch and dinner. One reason might have been the large servings of meat and potatoes dished up as part of the Black Bear brand of homestyle cooking, he says. Rather than eat something they could prepare for themselves at home, most restaurant patrons prefer foods they can’t readily get at home. “We have to offer food mom doesn’t make at home.”

Chris Martinez, executive chef at Cinnamon Grill, says that fare includes healthier meals served in more modest portions using local ingredients.

The restaurant not only offers fresh produce in season, but also relies on produce grown in greenhouses. Moreover, Martinez says he’s has stocked up on such ingredients as green chilies, garlic and — of course — peaches to offer seasonal flavors year around. That means a customer can order a Palisade peach daiquiri in January.

Cinnamon Grill adds to the Grand Valley flavor by offering desserts from Cake Cottage and Gelatos Junction.

Johnson says another advantageous change was the addition of a full-service bar that offers not only cocktails, but also local beers and wines.

Along with the name and menu, the interior of the restaurant also was changed  from a family diner to more of a contemporary adult atmosphere, Johnson says. The result is a more upscale setting, he adds, especially for dinner. There’s room to seat 129 people inside and another 44 in a dining area outside.

As part of the effort to reflect its setting, the interior walls feature paintings and photographs depicting the Grand Valley geography.

Johnson and Martinez bring a combined 45 years of experience in the restaurant industry to the Cinnamon Grill, including stints at the Ale House in Grand Junction. A local ownership group operates both restaurants.

Johnson says he’s optimistic customers will appreciate the reinvented restaurant at Cinnamon Grill and the local fare offered there. “We’re going to be that local flavor of Grand Junction.”