Drive roughly 10 miles north of Durango and you’ll find the comely and sprawling James Ranch, an over 400-acre landmark founded by Kay and Dave James in 1961. Before the snow falls, its pastures are a tapestry in several shades of green. And amid the scenery now sits the ranch’s new restaurant.
As a family-owned operation, the ranch has provided a source of organic meats, eggs and produce for the region, including for restaurants such as Eolus and Seasons of Durango.
The ranch’s dairy cows and beef cattle are grass-fed and grass-finished, providing a more natural food source for grazing stock than feedlots that raise animals on grains and corn.
Chickens wander and feed on the bugs inhabiting the lush pastures. This rids the pasture of insects that can damage the grasses needed for other stock, benefiting the ranch as a whole. Each group of livestock is grazed systematically about the pastures to ensure healthier grasses.
The James Ranch Market used to be a compact retail space sharing a building adjacent to the milking operation for the artisanal cheese-making operation run by Dan James. In 2011, the Harvest Grill at James Ranch opened as a kitchen-on-wheels, serving locals and tourists burgers, sandwiches and salads.
As the popularity of the James Ranch Market and Grill grew, expansion into new digs became an obvious business decision by the family. When the la Plata County Planning Commission approved a Class II land-use permit and the building of a new 4,800-square-foot structure in September 2017, the new Grill began to take shape.
The restaurant held its grand opening on Saturday.
The Grill’s owner, Cynthia James Stewart, said the new restaurant will continue the ongoing tradition of offering customers products grown on the James Ranch, and from a roster of local organic farms.
“It is a passion for me to support our local food producers not only because their food taste better – it’s fresh and nutrient-dense – but also because they have made a commitment to the land they are producing on,” she said. “My ingredients cost more to achieve local support, but our customers are voting with their dollar for their health and the land. ... I won’t serve our guests anything I wouldn’t serve my family.”
Stewart said the Grill’s chef, Ace Else, “was chosen for the team because of his passion for working with local and sustainable ingredients as well as his organizational skills and leadership ability.”
Else grew up in Durango and worked in restaurants since he was 15. He left Durango for 10 years, heading to Denver to pursue his culinary career.
“We look forward to being open year-round and offering seasonal menu items,” Else said. “Cooking seasonally isn’t always easy, but it’s the way nature operates, and just like everything else at the James Ranch, we strive to emulate nature’s ways.”
“The taste of the burgers is otherworldly, and along with the fries, is the best combination of the great American meal you can find in Southwest Colorado,” said Dave Manley, a customer who considers himself a burger aficionado.
Beyond burgers, the menu includes salads, a cheese melt made with the ranch’s own Belford cheese, steak sandwiches and hot dogs made with James Ranch beef. There is also a Signature Veggie Burger when in season.
The restaurant has seating for 80 in the dining room, plus 165 more on the deck and terrace. There is also a bandstand that will occasionally host local bands in the summer.
The James Ranch Grill is also available for special events such as rehearsal dinners, private parties and company outings.
The eatery is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information or to schedule an event, contact the James Ranch Grill at 764-4222, or visit the website at www.jamesranch.net.
Herald Food & Business Editor Nick Gonzales contributed to this report.