The Kilt Girls may be what lures some into the doors at the Tilted Kilt, but it is the pub-themed food, fun – and yes, even family-friendly atmosphere – that keep many of the restaurant’s customers coming back for a modern twist on Celtic charm.
“People really resonate with the pub experience, whether they’re Scottish, Irish, English – or not,” said Lisa Voss, co-owner of the Denver area’s two Tilted Kilt franchises, including the newest one in Greenwood Village. “It’s been so fun to be part of a concept where everyone enjoys coming down and having a lot of fun.”
There is no escaping that the 10-year-old Tilted Kilt brand is best known for its Kilt Girls, the friendly female servers who famously don plaid mini-kilts and tops.
The restaurant’s tagline: “A cold beer never looked so good.”
Having said that – and this writer would not disagree – the owners of Colorado’s two Tilted Kilt outlets are quick to stress that attractive waitresses are where the restaurant’s theme begins, not where it ends, stays or ogles.
“Once you get in here, I think you realize that it’s just a part of the bigger concept,” Voss said. “The girls in the outfits are fun, but I think people are resonating with the whole energy, the sports watching, sitting together with your pals.”
It is also about the quality food – a diverse menu that is influenced, but not obsessed by the traditional pub fare of the British Isles.
The Kilt tilts a nod to the auld country with its fish and chips and Irish stew. The St. Patrick’s Day menu boasted, among other items, old-style corned beef and cabbage [with lots of cabbage] and the popular Scotch eggs – two hardboileds wrapped in sweet and spicy sausage and “fried to golden perfection.”
The restaurant’s shepherd’s pie is among Voss’s favorites: Seasoned ground beef, carrots, peas and mushroom gravy topped with garlic mashed potatoes.
“It comes in this big kettle. The vegetables are all around with a mound of potatoes in the middle. It’s just rich and delicious,” the co-owner said.
Some of Tilted Kilt’s less-traditional items are still creatively influenced by the United Kingdom, examples being the Scottish cheesesteak [in sandwich or pizza form] and the Gaelic – not garlic – Chicken served in an Irish whiskey cream sauce.
Other decidedly non-Celtic dishes include the spicy black-bean veggie wrap, fish tacos, a Sloppy Jane and Fat Bastard’s Meatloaf Sandwich: “Get in my belly!”
The bottom line, says Voss: Cleverly clad women are not enough.
“In the restaurant business, if you’re going to be successful in the long term, you have to have wonderful food. You need a reason to come back,” she said. “Our food is fresh and made from scratch.”
Voss and her husband Mark earned their stripes in the restaurant trenches long before going plaid. Both have backgrounds in advertising and marketing and had worked for the Wendy’s corporation before eventually starting up one of that company’s metro-Phoenix, Ariz., franchise stores.
“That was an amazing experience,” Voss said. “It was a great family-oriented corporation, especially when Dave [Thomas] was alive. It was a great organization to grow up in business. They do everything so very well. We learned about operations, marketing and the sense of really understanding the customer.”
After trying their hands at several other casual-dining concepts, the couple eventually settled on the Arizona-based Tilted Kilt, a burgeoning restaurant chain that had been launched on a near-whim in Las Vegas, Nev. in 2003.
According to lore, it took Harrah’s casino little more than an hour to jump on the idea after an initial pitch from Tilted Kilt founder Mark DiMartino. Some 70-plus restaurants later, the Kilt has tilted its way across the United States.
“We felt like it had a lot of great elements,” Voss said. “It also afforded us the opportunity to come up to Denver and raise our family.”
The couple opened its first Kilt on the 16th Street Mall in 2009 and followed up in the Denver Tech Center last November. As the corporation’s area developers, the Vosses are also selling other Tilted Kilt franchises in Colorado, New Mexico and northern Texas. A Colorado Springs location is expected to open later this year with one or two more restaurants likely in metro Denver.
So far, it has all been the luck of the Irish for the entrepreneurial couple.
“We feel like we’re in another catbird seat,” she said of the Greenwood Village location. “We are so excited to be here.”