Francisco Quintana signs his emails with a Jacques Pepin quote, “great cooking favors the prepared hands.” It’s a cleaned up version of an old kitchen saying about planning and a lesson Quintana has learned during his twenty-year career. “If you’re scrambling, it’s going to come through in your food,” He says. “Nobody’s perfect. But we have to hit almost a level of perfection day in and day out.”
Quintana is an expert in preparation. He was once the regional chef at at least 18 Lucky Strike locations. But his roots are in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, and his career is a story of hard work, passion and mentorship. He’s now the owner. Quintana launched Bet On Me, LLC, recently, which includes three concepts for ghost kitchens.
“I started at the Denver Zoo, mainly because I was fourteen, and I needed that first job experience,” Quintana says. Quintana’s cousin was the manager at The Hungry Elephant. Quintana began as a busboy, but he quickly moved to the main cafeteria and, by sixteen or seventeen years old, he was in the kitchen.
He met Kevin McNicholas at the Hungry Elephant, where he worked as a busboy. McNicholas had started his business from scratch. “He gave me an idea of who I wanted to become,” Quintana continues.
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McNicholas would often assist in the kitchen. McNicholas also supported Quintana when he went to college to study criminal justice.
“I grew up in the Five Points neighborhood, and because of where I grew up, and what I went through in my childhood, being in that environment, I wanted to either become a police officer or a resource officer who would help kids like me,” He explained.
“At that time, the success rate of kids going on to college wasn’t very high,” He says that he did not try, but one of his aunts insisted. “I went to Metro for a year, but by the second semester, I was carrying my clogs and my pants more often than I was books. [Chef Jayson Reynolds] pulled me aside and helped make me a chef. He said, ‘you have to decide what you want to do.’”
Quintana incorporates ingredients from local purveyors with whom he’s built connections over the years.
Courtesy of Francisco Quintana
So Quintana focused on his work at Lucky Strike — a bowling alley, bar and restaurant chain. At nineteen, he was hired as a sous chef and was promoted to executive chef two years later. “I was really thrown into the mix. I had to earn my status quick,” He says so. “The difficulty was working with older guys who had the [culinary] education … getting them to believe in me.”
Soon, Quintana was traveling for Lucky Strike’s corporate branch, learning its menus in Los Angeles and executing them at restaurants around the country. Quintana saw it as a chance to improve his skills and to learn from other chefs how they run their kitchens. He’d take note of organization techniques and sustainable alternatives such as reusing vegetable peelings to create soup stock.
In 2018, he was promoted as West Coast corporate regional chef. He began writing menus for Lucky Strike stores in Hawaii, Washington and Arizona. He also manages the Denver store.
But then, he had what he calls “a life event” in his early thirties. He was going through a divorce and began to have health problems. “I remember working on the line that day, and I looked at one of my cooks and said, ‘I’m going to get some antibiotics,’” Quintana recalls. “Turns out I was in the hospital for a couple days. If I hadn’t gone when I did, I probably would have died.” He suffered from diverticulitis, and required 23 inches of his intestine to be repaired. Also, he needed bladder surgery.
Appaloosa Grill offered him a position as executive chef shortly after he was discharged from surgery. He accepted the offer. “It allowed me to be a daddy,” he notes. “I could fulfill my requirements and still be there for my kids, and in this industry, that’s tough.” It also provided an opportunity for unlimited creativity in the kitchen.
“It was always a dream job, and so we were riding a real good high, and then COVID came along, and we dipped down to nothing,” Quintana continues. “I lived three different lives at Appaloosa.” The first life was “do what you love,” the second, “strap up your boots and survive,” he says. The third was recovery. This began around Thanksgiving 2020, when the company was able bring back employees.
Quintana was prompted to consider working for himself by Monica Ruiz, Quintana’s girlfriend. “As parents, you tell your kids, ‘you can do anything you put your mind to,’” He said. “That was one of the driving points to finally say okay.”
Linda Hermosa offers Elote, a Mexican street corn with mayonnaise and spices.
Courtesy of Francisco Quintana
Together Quintana, Ruiz and her sister Korena Leon started making Sunday meals out of their apartment kitchen. Quintana had to change from a gourmet setup to cooking on a coal stove. But, the demand grew and they were able, in just five weeks, to serve over sixty families.
Quintana developed the menus under Bet On Me, LLC. They moved the operation to a ghost-kitchen in July.
30Fourth Kitchen offers New American food, including oxtail barbacoa macaroni and cheese and a wild mushroom po’boy. The name represents 34th Street, where Quintana grew up, and symbolizes the intention of a new beginning. Linda Hermosa sells Latin American foods. It’s a mixture of traditions Quintana was taught as a second generation Mexican American with New Mexican ancestry and specialties from Ruiz’s home of Queretaro, Mexico and offers dishes like chicken pozole, carnitas tacos and birria huitlacoche with grilled squash. Somos Vegetarians specializes in Latin American food but with a strict focus vegan and vegetarian entrees like their jackfruit tinga tortilla tostada. He also offers catering services.
In all his dishes, Quintana tries to incorporate ingredients from local purveyors with whom he’s built connections over the years. “Quality food and quality ingredients,” He explained, much like the meals Quintana said his grandma would make with vegetables grown in her garden.
He also wants to infuse a feeling of giving in his food business and business. He’s already been able to mentor kids from dishwashing positions to managers and chefs, and growing up in Five Points, he remembers getting Thanksgiving meals from Daddy Bruce and how much that meant. “I want to give Thanksgiving baskets to those in need,” He said. “My desire is to help.”
30Fourth Kitchen’s Linda Hermosa and Somos Vegetarians offer pick-up and delivery via GrubHub, UberEats, and GrubHub. For catering inquiries, email [email protected]