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."
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
Interesting read! The Cherry Creek location closed and became Toast, which was managed (and possibly owned?) by a former DPL employee and her husband before it, too, closed.
Thanks for reading and commenting, NH!
My grandfather, Frank Rolla, purchased the original Village Inn and Pub Lounge from Mola & Anderson in September 1961. My family operated it for the next 20 years or so…It was a staple in the Springs area and the food was so much better than any of the pancake house franchises that it spawned.
Very interesting, C Rolla! Thanks for the follow-up on the original Village Inn in Colorado Springs!
What happened to the location, did your fam sell?
That’s so cool!!!
My family moved to Colorado Springs in 1946. The original Village Inn on Pikes Peak Ave was regarded as among the best restaurants in Colorado Springs. When Families wanted to splurge on a nice dinner out they would go to the Village Inn or the Broadmoor. Among the special items served at the Village Inn was an appetizer portion of spaghetti with a ragu sauce on it. My Dad and I always ordered that appetizer and I still remember how good it was. As an adult, I tried many times to recreate that wonderful Ragu sauce, always falling a little short. The closest I have come to it is the Ragu Sauce in Alfredo Viazzi's Cookbook from his New York Italian Restaurants, but I have never been able to quite duplicate the wonderful flavor of the sauce at the Village Inn. Also served was Roast Prime Rib. I have always presumed that the flavor of that wonderful Ragu sauce depended on beef stock derived from the Roast Beef. To this day I have never had spaghetti quite as tasty as what was served at the old Village Inn on Pikes Peak Avenue. Another favorite there was the Vino Rossi sundae which was simply red wine on Vanilla Ice cream. As a kid I loved that, and I still do.
Fascinating. I had no idea Village Inn originated in CO.
Good things start in Colorado! Thanks for reading:)
I know it was a big thing in our family to go out to eat there. I remember they had lots of different flavored syrups. Fond memories of the strawberries and cream topped pancakes. The Belgian waffle was a big hit in our family too. Comfy booths. Also have fond memories of Round the Corner restaurant, which seemed to be a local chain. Was fun to order things by phone at your booth.