A number of chains have sprung up offering only breakfast, brunch, and lunch. They provide operators and their employees with reasonable work hours and menu items with moderate-to-low food costs. Customers, meanwhile, get to enjoy less expensive meals in casual settings, and they have come to understand that alcohol’s not just for dinner anymore. Mimosas and Bloody Marys have long been staples of weekend brunch, but now that so many people are working from home, a weekday morning cocktail or two is no longer out of the question.
One of the beneficiaries of these changes of habit is HashTAG, a growth vehicle of Troy Guard’s TAG Restaurant Group in Denver.
Guard himself has a fine-dining background, having grown up in Hawaii and come under the tutelage of chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi. He went on to work under Richard Sandoval, which brought him to Denver, where he ultimately built his own restaurant group, including the steakhouse concept Guard and Grace, fast-casual Bubu, and casual-dining Mexican concept Los Chingones.
The first HashTAG opened in summer of 2017 in the newish Central Park neighborhood, which was developed on the site of the former Stapleton International Airport.
“I wanted it to be fun, obviously, with a great vibe, but more on the savory side than the sweet side,” Guard said. “I tend to cook food that I like to eat, and I can’t do sweet like I used to.”
Business was middling for the first couple of years.
“I misjudged the neighborhood, because I live here,” Guard said, adding that he wanted a cool breakfast spot for himself and his friends.
“But as the neighborhood grew, the place just kept growing — plus great reviews etc.,” he said.
As with most operators, Guard reassessed his business in the wake of the pandemic. He closed his former fine-dining flagship, TAG in Denver’s Larimer Square, to focus on concepts with more growth potential, including HashTAG.
The second location of the breakfast and brunch concept opened in the suburb Highlands Ranch, Colo., in October 2023, and a third is slated to open in downtown Denver in June. A lease for the fourth location has been signed and is slated to open in early 2025, “and we’re working on five and six right now,” Guard said.
The name, suggested by a friend of Guard’s who now gets to eat there for free, comes from the social media concept, of course, but also refers to the restaurant group and the restaurant’s signature breakfast hash with potatoes, vegetables, choice of breakfast meat, and eggs, as well as its more popular pork hash with hash browns, adobo pork shoulder, ranchero sauce, roasted Anaheim chiles, grilled onions, cotija cheese and spicy coleslaw.
That pork shoulder is reprised in a Colorado-style green chili omelet, a breakfast burrito that is the restaurant’s top seller, one of several variations on eggs Benedict, and as a side dish.
The all-scratch kitchen also offers huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, omelets, biscuits and gravy, chicken & waffles, and sweet items too, including a sea salt chocolate chip hotcake and a caramel apple hotcake, plus bread pudding-style French toast and more.
In the fall and winter, Guard also uses roast chicken bones to make a chicken pho with a poached egg and rice noodles that’s served at HashTAG.
He said the average per-person check at the concept is around $22-$24.
As the concept grows, the chef is planning to enhance the menu and bring in more of his Hawaiian background, including loco moco — a hamburger patty in brown gravy over rice topped with an egg — made with trim from Guard and Grace, as well as spam, teriyaki steak, and the Portuguese malasada doughnuts that are popular on the islands.
He has also expanded business hours, closing at 4 p.m. instead of 2, which Guard said allows him to offer drinks to people slipping out of the office early.
“We’re coming up with some little savory, breakfast bite-sized appetizers too — pigs in a blanket, little sliders, French toast bites using Hawaiian bread, just some fun good stuff.”
Guard said the Highlands Ranch location has a cooler vibe than the Central Park one, “and we’re going to make it feel even better in the third one,” with a 4,000 square foot outdoor patio that will allow him to host events featuring his other concepts.
“Hopefully everybody gets better with age, so we get better with each one we open,” he said.
Guard said he will continue to expand HashTAG in Denver, and then move on to Houston, where his second Guard and Grace restaurant is already thriving.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
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