By Jeff Todd

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– A consortium of restaurateurs, artists, and enthusiasts are hoping they can shape the future of Casa Bonita after the owners filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

Casa Bonita (credit: CBS)

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“When I bring someone that has never been here, to see the look on their face when they come around the corner with their tray of food and they see the waterfall; that’s like me seeing it for the first time,” said Andrew Novick who organized Save Casa Bonita.

Novick is inarguably the biggest Casa Bonita superfan, logging more than 300 visits. He’s brought together friends and strangers to hopefully guide the iconic restaurant’s future.

“If there’s a restaurant that has been around for 47 years, and everyone complains about the food, it’s probably not about the food. There’s so much more to it than that,” he said.

“I was approached by a group of restaurateurs and artists and lovers of Casa Bonita. But at first, they were very secretive about it and wouldn’t tell me. And I was like, there’s nothing they can say that is going to make me interested in doing something like this, then they said, ‘Casa Bonita’ and I was all in,” said Josh Epps, the owner of Jelly Café. “I think it’s going to be gangbusters once these doors open.”

Mexican restaurant Casa Bonita has been a memory-making institution for decades, filling children with countless sopapillas and dreams of plummeting from the top of a man-made, three-story indoor waterfall while people eat tacos, listen to mariachi music and watch puppet shows around them. (file photo credit: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

With restaurant operators like Epps and others involved in the group, the main goal is to improve the food offerings at Casa Bonita if and when it reopens.

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“Everyone that lives in Denver had been here at one point in their lives. Everyone has a fond memory of it. Maybe not the food,” Epps joked. “I don’t want to talk negatively about it but there’s definitely room for improvement there and I think we can do something really exciting there.”

While the owners seek bankruptcy protection and other investors swirl to capture the site’s future, Save Casa Bonita is working to be involved.

“If there’s someone who wants to take over Casa Bonita, we want to be involved. If they open Casa Bonita, we want to be involved. If we can get investors and open it ourselves, that would be the ultimate goal. Just keep raising money and awareness is our goal right now,” Novick said.

A GoFundMe campaign has raised $40,000 so far. Novick says he’s not exactly sure what the money will cover but could be used for anything that helps the group secure the restaurant’s next phase.

(file photo credit: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

“There definitely feels like there’s a real opportunity to save this place,” Epps said.

A rally is planned for April 24 to bring even more attention to the group’s efforts to save the historic landmark.

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“I think bringing it to local ownership would be amazing,” Novick said.

Jeff Todd