So, you think you know Casa Bonita?

Author shares some secrets about the Lakewood landmark

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/21/20

It's easy to get lost in awe by the cliff diving, waterfall, live performances and Mexican food that is all packaged inside Casa Bonita — and Don Whitcomb wants the world to know about the Lakewood …

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So, you think you know Casa Bonita?

Author shares some secrets about the Lakewood landmark

Posted

It's easy to get lost in awe by the cliff diving, waterfall, live performances and Mexican food that is all packaged inside Casa Bonita — and Don Whitcomb wants the world to know about the Lakewood restaurant.

“When you walk in, you're flabbergasted. It's that fantastic of a place,” said Whitcomb who managed Casa Bonita's serving line from 1982 to 1984. “It really is the kind of thing that you can go to many, many times. You'll learn more and see more each time you go through.”

Whitcomb's book “The Casa Bonita You Never Knew” details the history, architecture and more that makes the restaurant so iconic. He shared some facts and his secret Casa Bonita sopapilla recipe at the History Happy Hour event at Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park on Jan. 14.

Here are some highlights from Whitcomb's discussion about Casa Bonita.

Top secret DIY dish

Casa Bonita's menu options are as is, but if you keep your plate long enough for the restaurant's sopapillas to come out, you can try Whitcomb's favorite combo.

Rip off a corner of the sopapilla, and then you pour in cheese, taco meat and lettuce. Whitcomb describes the dish as a stuffed taco. He got the idea from one of his former bosses when he was working at the restaurant.

“He said if I ever see you making one, I'm going to fire you right on the spot,” Whitcomb said.

Casa Bonita almost didn't exist

Bill Waugh opened the Lakewood Casa Bonita location in 1974 — but it almost didn't exist.

Waugh had borrowed a good amount of money from a bank to build the restaurant, but he went through it all before construction was done. He had leveraged two Casa Bonita locations in Oklahoma, Taco Buenos he owned and his home to build the Lakewood Casa Bonita, Whitcomb says.

The bank told Waugh he had to turn some profit for the unfinished restaurant, or it would take what he had leveraged, leading to Waugh and his partners coming up with the idea to open the top half of the restaurant. The bottom of it remained unfinished.

After six months of business, Waugh had enough money to finish the downstairs portion of the restaurant and to pay the bank back.

“We're kind of fortunate to have Casa Bonita today because of Bill and his guys coming up with that idea,” said Whitcomb.

Faces in the rocks

Next time you're at Casa Bonita, be sure to look closely at the cliff inside the restaurant. You'll find faces in the rocks.

“Once you see it, it's very pronounced. (The faces) just follow you everywhere you go, it's crazy,” said Whitcomb.

Artifacts from Mexican mines

Inside Casa Bonita, you'll find pieces of Mexico inside the restaurant's gold and silver mines. The mines contain artifacts from a Mexican mine, including ore carts, pillars and rails.

“It was all picked out at a mine. That's one of the reasons you get authenticity,” said Whitcomb.

Aside from mining artifacts, the gold mine contains actual gold dust on the wall.

Hidden names in the cavern

One of the secrets hidden inside Casa Bonita can be found when you walk through the restaurant's cavern. If you look in the middle of the runoff in the cavern, you'll find the names of every designer of the restaurant.

“There's some fascinating things that people don't know. I would love to interview everyone that ever worked (at Casa Bonita),” said Whitcomb.

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