- Words by Katie Lew
Photos: Kelly Fischer
Over the past several years, Shuga’s Restaurant has become the yardstick by which all other Colorado Springs restaurants are measured. A new restaurant might have great cocktails, but are they as creative as Shuga’s? A new café may have cute and funky décor, but is it as unique and Shuga’s? With its hip, eclectic décor, carefully curated menu and unique cocktails, Shuga’s has become a well-loved gem in the Colorado Springs restaurant scene. However, owners Alexius Weston and Kurt Bunch still remember when Shuga’s was viewed with confusion, and maybe even a little suspicion. The location of Shuga’s, a converted 1910 grocery store one mile south of downtown, was especially confusing to some. “Everyone thought the location was really weird,” Alexius recalls, “They were like, ‘What are you doing down there?’, and the neighbors weren’t sure about us. They wondered what our customer base would be like and how loud we would be.”
That the past several years have seen this suspicion change into acceptance, affection, and great success is no accident. Shuga’s ever-evolving menu and fun atmosphere has attracted a large group of regulars, as well as many new faces. “I was trying to target a really broad audience, and I love that we’ve accomplished that,” says Alexius. “There is such a great mix of people who come in. We get the ladies who come for lunch, the guys with tattoos, professors, businessmen—really people from all across the board.”
As an Army brat, Alexius lived in Colorado Springs for a few years in high school and was drawn back to the area after spending some time in Seattle after college. “I just felt like it was time to check back in with family, and then, once I was here, I saw this big opportunity to fill a niche that wasn’t being addressed,” she says of her inspiration to open Shuga’s in 2001. After looking at several buildings, Alexius fell in love with the current location and spent eight months renovating the building and planning a menu.
“We had to go through some major hoops with the city because of the lack of parking and zoning issues, but I still love this space and we’re continually messing with it,” says Alexius. Over the years, the small dining room has expanded with the addition of patios and, more recently, a kitchen garden out back.
Kurt entered the picture a year after Shuga’s opened, when he stopped in at the restaurant on a road trip to the Northwest and met Alexius. They fell in love and now run Shuga’s together, while also raising their 6-year old son. When asked about the challenges of running a small restaurant like Shuga’s, both Kurt and Alexius cite the tiny kitchen as a major headache. It seems like a contradiction, but the challenge of a small kitchen might also be one of the keys to Shuga’s success.
“Having a small kitchen is a great challenge for menu items. Sometimes we get complaints about there being too few choices, but having a small kitchen allows us to have great control over the consistency of the items that go out, as well as keeping the ingredients fresh,” Kurt explains. “It helps us stay committed to fresh food, made everyday, from scratch.” Alexius credits her mom with creating a lot of the original menu items, and many of these, such as the Coconut Shrimp Soup, remain regular favorites.
Along with a passion for carefully crafted food and a love of the Northwest, Alexius and Kurt share an interest in creating new and innovative cocktails. A wide selection of unique cocktails has always been a big part of Shuga’s draw and both Alexius and Kurt are deeply involved with this part of the menu.
“Making your own identity in cocktails is huge for a small place like Shuga’s,” Kurt explains. “It also helps that we have a lot of bartenders who participate in the creation of new drinks. It’s nice to have people who want to create the next great drink and Shuga’s is a forum for them to try new things.” In addition to a constantly changing, updated cocktail menu, the drinks at Shuga’s are unique in that they are made with only the freshest juices and all syrups are made in-house. “The freshly squeezed lime juice is a huge part of the quality of our cocktails; fresh juices, fresh syrups, fresh everything! It’s amazing how much fruit we go through in a day,” Kurt laughs.
The house-made Lemon Ginger Tea is also a signature part of the cocktail menu and can be found in many drinks, from Maggy’s Hot Toddy in the winter, to the Shuga’s Smash cocktail. This summer Shuga’s has introduced several new cocktails, each sounding more delicious than the last. The Urban Garden is a light, refreshing blend of gin and cucumber, while the Teardrop Colada is an innovative take on a traditional Piña Colada.
Alexius and Kurt are continually updating and changing the menu at Shuga’s, but they also have bigger changes in store for the future. “We have so many plans, if we just have the time to get to them,” Alexius exclaims. “We have that food truck sitting out there [pointing behind the patio] and we’re planning on selling something out of there soon.” Kurt agrees, “I love the idea of creating a grab-and-go style place out of the truck so that people could come and get some Lemon Ginger Tea to go and add whatever they want to it at home. Or they could get some Shrimp Soup or Ramen to go.” They both seem especially excited about plans to turn a nearby building into a full-size commercial kitchen. “That will be a great support for our kitchen here. The new kitchen will open up a whole new world for us,” says Alexius. I, for one, cannot wait to see what that world will look like.
701 South Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs, CO