By cvlopez |

“I feel like we really have had a lot of blessings just to be here, and so we just want to do right by it.”

DENISE Vigil and Nealson Villapando are inside their soon-to-open The Friar’s Fork Restaurant, talking about the expectations of the place and how it nearly didn’t happen in Alamosa.

“I couldn’t find a place, couldn’t find a place and thought maybe ‘We’ll just go to Pueblo,’” Vigil is saying, noting that the couple has a home there. “My sister was like, ‘Please, just try one more time,’ and I’m like ‘there isn’t anything. I’ve looked!’”

She didn’t really have an interest in Main Street Alamosa – thought it was still too heavy and noisy with traffic, even with the recent improvements. She remembered a white church she had always had in the back of her mind when she thought about opening a restaurant in her hometown, and decided to take more try at seeing if it could work.

The church she was thinking of is the former First Baptist Church on State Avenue near Fourth Street, most recently 1st Inglesia Apostolica. She had an appointment with realtor Preston Porter and inquired about it.

Nealson Villapando and Denise Vigil Nealson Villapando and Denise Vigil
Work has begun in the former St.Thomas Episcopal Church. Work has begun in the former St.Thomas Episcopal Church.

‘I just fell in love with it once I saw it’

TURNS out that church wasn’t an option, but another just might be. Porter pulled up on his computer screen the former St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fourth Street, just catty corner from the church Vigil was remembering. She was intrigued. Porter said he had 40 minutes until his next appointment, if Vigil wanted to take a look.

“I just fell in love with it once I saw it,” she says now.

She and Nealson have been inside pretty much ever since, tearing out the drop ceiling, re-stuccoing walls, preparing the kitchen for what’s to come. “It’s a hot mess,” says Vigil. “Hot mess is one thing, but the bones are really good. It’s a great building.”

It really is. Built in 1926, a notable architectural firm of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fisher & Fisher of Denver, designed it as a Mission Revival-style church. When you peel back the layers inside, as Vigil and Villapando are doing, you see the craftsmanship and beauty of the original structure.

Vigil had never been inside the church until she and her husband looked at it with Porter, even though she grew up just three blocks to the north on First Street. The main dining area is straight ahead as you step inside. Off to the left is the courtyard and then a pathway to the speakeasy tavern.

The fact the church had a separate sanctuary that could be converted into a speakeasy was beyond Vigil’s dreams and why the place she and Villapando bought is perfect for their restaurant dreams to come true.

“I feel like we really have had a lot of blessings just to be here, and so we just want to do right by it,” she says.

They’re not quite sure when they’ll open, other than sooner rather than later in 2022. They’ve done all the demolition and renovations so far themselves. Now they’re waiting on windows and insulation, and plumbing and electrical work, and kitchen appliances, among other things. Vigil is stuccoing the walls herself and has selected a farrow-grain yellow and a vibrant red shade as primary colors.

The menu will always be Italian, and seasonal Mediterranean dishes will accent the food she prepares. For the past decade Vigil has been the private chef at the Trinchera Ranch, and prior to that had gained her culinary experience working for other top chefs around the country.

Right now the two biggest concerns she and Nealson find themselves faced with are fulfilling expectations given the buzz around the opening, and identifying the talent she needs to pull off the food and dining experience the couple expects to deliver.

Continued blessings are in order.


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