In December 1958, brothers-in-law Jim Mola and Merton "Andy" Anderson launched their first Denver Village Inn Pancake House at 8855 East Colfax Avenue.
The history of the Village Inn restaurant chain, however, really begins in Colorado Springs.
Anderson and Mola began their partnership after noticing the lack of pancakes houses along the Front Range. Anderson didn't have any restaurant experience, but Mola had spent 10 years operating Seymour's Cafe in Eugene, Oregon.
In November 1956, Anderson and Mola purchased The Village Inn, 217 East Pikes Peak Avenue, in Colorado Springs from J. N. McCullough, former mayor of Colorado Springs. McCullough had operated the restaurant for 10 years. In the sale, McCullough retained the ownership of the restaurant building while Mola and Anderson received ownership of the restaurant business, equipment, furnishings and the name "Village Inn."
The Village Inn was housed in a landmark Colorado Springs building: the 1880 site of the Grace Episcopal Church. Since 1929, the building had operated as a restaurant and had originally been called "Chapel Inn."
Mola and Anderson held on to the East Pikes Peak Village Inn until September 1961, when they sold it to focus on the operation of the Village Inn Pancake House, Inc. By December 1968, 37 Village Inn restaurants had popped up in 20 states, and the firm was expanding at the rate of one new restaurant per month—all without a single closure. By the end of 1971, Village Inn had grown to 60 restaurants.
The chain's success may have been due to its franchising approach. All potential franchise holders were thoroughly screened, and those accepted took on nine months of college-level classroom work and training in company-owned Village Inn restaurants throughout Denver. A.F. Reesman, Vice President of Franchising, explained the breadth of the training in an August 21, 1971, Rocky Mountain News article:
"Before we turn a unit over to a man, we bring him into Denver and put him through the management training wringer, from kitchen to dining room to advertising to accounting."
Also carefully planned were the look and location of the restaurants. Sites for restaurant buildings had to be situated in "high-volume areas with a mixture of travelers, business and commercial workers, and families living within a two-mile radius." Village Inn designers provided prototype plans for restaurant buildings (always standalone structures) and National Equipment Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Village Inn, provided each restaurant with all of its furnishings, "from ranges to menus to toothpicks."
Anderson and Mola eventually sold the Village Inn Pancake House, Inc. to a group of investors in 1977. In 1982, the company became the publicly-traded Vicorp Restaurants, Inc. The following year, the company purchased 59 Pop & Fresh Pie restaurants and renamed them as "Bakers Square."
In April 2008, Vicorp Restaurants, Inc. closed 56 Village Inn and Bakers Square restaurants across the country, including four in Colorado. The closures were blamed on the slowing economy and a jump in food prices. Vicorp Restaurants, Inc. was sold to American Blue Ribbon Holdings in March 2009. As of 2018, Village Inn is part of American Blue Ribbon Holdings.
Want to learn more about Denver's restaurant history? Check out some of our previous blog posts on the subject:
- DENVER DINING OF YORE: THE WATROUS BAR AND CAFÉ
- DENVER DINING OF YORE: BOGGIO’S PARISIENNE ROTISSERIE
- DENVER DINING OF YORE: PELL'S OYSTER HOUSE
- DENVER DINING OF YORE: BLUE PARROT INN
- CELEBRATING DENVER'S LOST RESTAURANTS
- MENU COLLECTION CUTS THE MUSTARD
- MANUSCRIPT MONDAY: MENU COLLECTION
- BUCKHORN EXCHANGE
- MUDDY'S CAFE: AN IMPORTANT DENVER INSTITUTION
- ELVIS PRESLEY: HONORARY DENVER COP AND EATER OF STRANGE SANDWICHES