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The secret recipe for Punch Bowl

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pb2016Restaurateur Robert Thompson’s life has been about movement. He was born on a U.S. Army post in Germany while his dad served in the military, and subsequently lived in Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and Colorado. At 18, he backpacked across Europe and bartended in a London pub to earn airfare home. After landing in D.C., he bought a van to move his things to Colorado and used it to start a short-lived moving business.

“That was my first inspiration to open my own business,” Thompson said of the van. “But I realized picking stuff up and setting it down wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

He got into the restaurant/entertainment business in 1997 in Nashville, Tennessee, with an upscale billiard parlor/cigar bar/swing club called Buffalo Billiards, and began working to transform the restaurant industry. He saw a gap in the business — that restaurants with entertainment components tended to serve only so-so food — and has been plugging that gap since with his “eatertainment” strategy. Thompson’s first Colorado concept was downtown Denver’s B-52 Billiards.

“What I detected is no one had figured out how to put high-integrity food in high-volume, craft beverage places,” Thompson said of B-52. “No one was seeing a void in the market, but it was obvious to me. I saw it because I had lived on both sides — both the restaurant and the bar sides.”

Other ideas followed including Cocktail Concepts Inc., owner of dining establishments in multiple states featuring settings from formal French to nightclub. Thompson launched his current, national Punch Bowl Socialrestaurant/entertainment establishments, whose corporate entity is Denver-based Seasoned Development LLC, in 2008.

Punch Bowl’s menu items, with regional variations, range from bar bites such as sweet cilantro wings and shared plates like stuffed mushrooms, to specialty cast iron cooked-to-order burgers. The concept’s entertainment offerings include bowling, darts, shuffleboard and vintage arcade games.

As a kid, Thompson saw his parents make moves in their careers. His dad, after leaving the Army, became a police detective with the Mississippi narcotics bureau, and his mom, after a corporate career at the MCI telecommunications company, started her own database-marketing firm.

Thompson wanted to be an archaeologist or a NFL running back when he was growing up. “So, of course, I’m a restaurateur,” he said.

Even with all his forward career momentum, Thompson has gotten stuck a few times. He has experienced restaurant failures and financing challenges, but has stuck with his passion for restaurants.

“The greatest challenge I’ve had in business used to be dealing with inevitable setbacks,” Thompson said. “You just have to find the ability to insulate yourself from the moment, to look down from the 50,000-foot view and understand setbacks are part of the larger story of moving forward.”