It was less than a year ago that we profiled the updated Arugula in Boulder—a “renovation” that saw Chef Sven Hedenas take the reins in the kitchen, while Owner/Executive Chef Alec Schuler switched out seasonal menus for weekly ones. To complement the culinary updates, Schuler touched up the elegant dining room with murals and a fresh color scheme.
Since that relaunch in April 2015, Schuler says interest in the new Arugula has been unfortunately lackluster. And while execution of the new menus was undeniably strong, six months on and the restaurant saw no uptick in business. This, coupled with the exit of Hedenas and the promotion of now Chef de Cuisine Jason Castle and Sous Chef Daniel Quinn, prompted the team to revisit menus in October 2016.
For Schuler, the key to a successful culinary program at Arugula was rooted in the business model for next-door breakfast standby Tangerine. “I would walk around every morning, and notice that they were packed,” Schuler says. “So I decided to bring Arugula in line with Tangerine. Arugula was more of a bistro-style restaurant when we launched anyway, and we needed to get back to that.”
In an effort to meet the palates and preferences of daily diners, Schuler returned the menu to a yearly rotation while expanding offerings significantly. Those offerings still lean on fresh ingredients, but most items will remain permanent fixtures. “Only four to eight items will change based on seasonality,” Schuler says. “That might increase, but that’s what we’re starting with.”
Additionally, an expanded “small plates” section will afford guests more flexibility when they dine, and many old favorites from yesteryear will reappear as foundational dishes on the menu. “In general, we’re simplifying things and going back to what works,” Schuler explains. “People felt like they wanted something simpler and reasonably priced to enjoy. We’re giving them that.”
To wit, the inclusion of the eponymous Burger with grass-fed beef on a potato bun, braised Short Ribs, the celebrated Sausage and Goat Cheese Penne, and classic tapas-style dishes like olive oil-poached Calamari, Grilled Chicken Tenders, and Shishito Peppers. Overall, prices have been reduced to make regular dining eminently possible. “We have some of the lowest prices we’ve ever had,” Schuler boasts. What does that look like for dinner? Small plates that run $5-10, salads that stretch $5-13, and main dishes that clock in at $13-23. Desserts have followed suit, with four of the most recent nine inclusions rotating out to make room for customer favorites. Each one is now priced between $6-11.
On the beverage side, Schuler cites just a few changes—like by-the-glass wine options that now start at $7 instead of $9, and a slowly tightening bottle list.
Alongside customer feedback, this formula was largely inspired by Tangerine. “The breakfast menu we have next door is simple,” says Schuler. “It offers a lot of comfort foods at a good price, and many of the dishes are accessible to diners. Plus, service is casual and quick, allowing guests to eat, linger, and leave within an hour. We aim to offer that at Arugula, too.”
Wine dinner regulars need not fear Arugula’s newest chapter, however; these will continue for the foreseeable future. “The wine dinners have been great for us,” Schuler says. “We may even add other kinds of collaborative events. We just need to see what works. For now, we’re focusing on returning Arugula to its reliably delicious bistro roots.”
For more information, and to peruse the updated menus at Arugula, visit arugularestaurant.com.
By Jeffrey Steen, Managing Editor