By Mary Lou Egan
Empty storefronts, dilapidated houses, auto-body shops and salvage yards now line Washington Street. Freight trains sometimes block traffic, and bumper-to-bumper semis lumber along. In these chaotic industrial surroundings, the pristine building Casa Don Juan at 5106 Washington stands out.
The “Juan” in Casa Don Juan is Juan Quiroz. The last name is that of Juan’s great-grandfather, who emigrated from Spain.
“Mom and dad had very proud and strong cultural roots, and insisted that our family speak only Spanish at home,” Quiroz said.
Quiroz grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California and gained restaurant experience working as a busboy at age 15. He was then employed at Florestone Company, a supplier of bathroom and plumbing supplies. Quiroz rose to the position of supervisor, but when the company expanded into Texas he declined their offer to relocate.
In 2004, he moved to Colorado and worked as a driver to acquaint himself with the personalities of Colorado cities. In 2007, he started the Burrito King Restaurant in Colorado Springs, which gradually expanded to six locations. Quiroz took pride in the caliber of his food, and when the franchisees started cutting corners, the quality deteriorated. So he shut the business down and looked for a different opportunity.
In 2017, Quiroz and his wife, Delia, found the site at 5106 Washington. Constructed in 1926, the building has housed a grocery, restaurant and meat market, tax preparation office and performance venue. He and Delia saw the space, which had not been renovated in 40-plus years, as an unpolished gem, and also an opportunity to provide something for the Globeville community.
They exposed the brick walls, used beetle-killed wood throughout, and uncovered the painted windows to bring in light and a view of Globeville. An outdoor dining area is busy on warm days. Casa Don Juan retains its blue-collar heart, but the food is truly upper-class. A wide selection of authentic seafood, beef, chicken and pork recipes sparkle with fresh ingredients and meticulous preparation.
The restaurant offers discounts to clergy, military and city workers. Right now, the business is closed on Sundays to ensure that the staff has time to spend with their families. But Quiroz said the situation could change depending on how employees feel.
Quiroz also operates a concession at the Mission Ballroom in the nearby RiverNorth (RiNo) neighborhood. When asked about gentrification, he was philosophical: “It’s what’s happening, and you have to adapt. Change is always with us, and we’ll adjust.”
Don’t be fooled by the industrial locale. Casa Don Juan is worth a try. Stop in at 5106 Washington, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day but Sunday.
Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.