Delores Tronco

Flair for Fare

English-major-turned-business-owner reunites with her passion to create one of the country’s best new restaurants
By Anne Cumming Rice, Photography by Barry Gutierrez

There was a moment that pointed Delores Tronco (BA-05) to what makes her tick, what her life’s joy and work should be.

Actually, there were several.

When she was a teenager, she begged for a job – any job – at Texas Roadhouse in Greeley. She started as a “mucker,” unloading the bus tubs in the kitchen, and eventually moved her way up to busser, then hostess, then server and then manager of the back office.

But even in those early days unloading bus tubs, she knew. “The restaurant was one of the only places I could completely lose myself,” says the 32-year-old. “It was a magic place I could escape to.”

When she was a student at UNC, she worked 35 hours a week at Roma in Greeley so she could pay for school and graduate without debt. The same couple would come into the restaurant every Tuesday evening. She got to know them. One night, they asked for a table for 10.

“What’s the occasion?” Tronco asked them.

They told her they had been coming in every Tuesday after the woman’s chemo appointments, and this night her hair had grown back long enough for her to get a haircut. And they were celebrating with friends.

“I suddenly realized my job was more than meets the eye,” Tronco says. “The restaurant was a soft place for these people to land during a difficult time. I was part of something much bigger than I thought.”

And there was a moment after college, after she’d spent two years as part of a nonprofit management fellowship through the El Pomar Foundation. Many of her peers from the fellowship were going on to graduate school.

But Tronco wasn’t headed on the same path. She decided to get a job, bide her time and put as much money as she could in the bank until she figured out what she wanted to do. She spent time in a couple of different jobs, all the while struggling with migraine headaches and a heart tugging her in a direction that she says some considered a waste of her potential.

But she made a decision in 2010.

“I stopped caring what everyone else thought about what I should do,” she says. “I’m the only one who has to live inside my brain every day. I had been out of the restaurant business for five years, but it was calling me back.”

She wanted to open a restaurant, but first she needed fresh knowledge, business partners and money. She figured it would take a decade to get to where she wanted to be.

Five years later, she is the co-owner of the successful year-old Work & Class restaurant in Denver’s River North neighborhood, a few blocks from Coors Field. She can look back and see that all of her experiences not only shaped her future, but pointed her to it.


At UNC, Tronco majored in English. She attended a year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and came back to Greeley, not really wanting to go to UNC because it was so close to home. But in high school, she’d taken an English class at UNC with Professor Marcus Embry. In her struggle to figure out what to do after UNLV, she went back to talk with Embry.

“School was pretty easy for me. I was the type of student who could start on a paper the night before it was due and get an A on it,” Tronco says. “Marcus was one of the first adults in my life who said, ‘You can do better than this.’ ”

Embry encouraged her to enroll at UNC, even suggested she could major in English. She also minored in business administration and jokes that she took calculus and creative writing back-to-back.

Without the business education she received at the Monfort College of Business, she says she would have never been able to write a business plan for what ultimately became Work & Class.

The El Pomar fellowship after college taught her what it means to be a leader. “I learned to challenge the process,” she says, a frame of reference that was instrumental in becoming an entrepreneur.

Later, she worked for a public relations firm and with the 9News Health Fair, which taught her how to handle media interviews. That has come in handy as Work & Class has received rave reviews in the press since it opened in January 2014.

In February, Work & Class chef Dana Rodriguez was one of three Colorado chefs nominated for a James Beard Award, a prestigious honor in the culinary world.

“It’s a wonderful honor for Dana,” Tronco says. “But it’s also a reflection of the restaurant.”


The positive reviews are part of the reason the tiny eatery fills up by 5:30 every night and hops until it closes. The atmosphere is loud, crowded and full of energy. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so the wait can be long, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

Located in a building made of shipping containers at 25th and Larimer, the 51-seat dining room (plus 35 on the patio) has metal tables, simple décor and a hostess stand made from a factory conveyor belt. A lighted sign above it says, “Now Serving Good Beer” one night, “Now Serving Tasty Gin” the next.

The restaurant’s motto is “a square meal, a stiff drink and a fair price,” appealing to the clientele hinted at in the restaurant’s name – the working class. The “good food, no fuss” approach is not fine dining, but it is good, unique fare. The combination of Latin and American comfort food includes chickpea croquettes, pork and veal meatballs with chipotle tomato sauce, rosemary rotisserie chicken, handmade corn tortillas and flavorful butterscotch pudding.

But Tronco says the restaurant’s success is about more than good food and service. It’s about having a story and a soul.

“There are hundreds of restaurants that opened in Denver in the last year,” Tronco says. “So what separates you from the rest? Good food and good service? Yes, but there has to be a story. There has to be a connection that people make with what you are doing. You have to be authentic. You have to come from a real place.”

Tronco grew up in Greeley, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. She met her business partner Tony Maciag, the youngest of eight kids from Detroit, when she decided to jump back into the restaurant business in 2010 and went to work for him as an assistant manager at Euclid Hall, an American tavern in Larimer Square with a nationally acclaimed beer list.

Around the same time, Tronco partnered with two others to create the Justice League of Street Food, a group of food trucks that hosts large outdoor hospitality events. That led her to a management position at Steuben’s, a Denver restaurant known for its comfort food, and eventually to become human resources director for the restaurant group that includes Steuben’s, Vesta Dipping Grill and Ace.

As Tronco and Maciag started brainstorming about opening a restaurant, Maciag knew the only chef he wanted to work with was Rodriguez, who grew up on a farm in Chihuahua, Mexico. Starting out as a dishwasher and moving her way up, she worked for 16 years with James Beard Award-winner Jennifer Jasinksi, well-known in the Denver restaurant scene as the owner of Denver favorites Bistro Vendome, Rioja, Euclid Hall and Stoic and Genuine.

Now Tronco, Maciag and Rodriguez, all co-owners of Work & Class, have 32 employees and a clientele that keeps growing and coming back. It’s been a little more than a year since the restaurant opened, but given its success, people are already asking them what’s next. But Tronco is reluctant to go there yet. She loves having a small staff that she can teach and invest in.

“We never intended to go the Snooze or Chipotle route and franchise or open another location,” she says. “For a while we want to do what we do and have fun. You can’t get carried away with the success. And if we decide we want to take on another project, we have to ask ourselves why we want to do it.”

They will be the same kind of questions Tronco had to ask herself along her journey as she learned to follow her own heart.

“I don’t think I’d appreciate this as much as I do had I not been away from the restaurant business for a while,” she says. “Even on the worst days here, I know I did the right thing.” NV


One item on Work & Class’ one-page menu piques more curiosity than others. Read here.


What are five traits that you think have been instrumental in getting you from your days at Roma in Greeley to owning your own successful restaurant Work & Class? Read here.

Work & Class

2500 Larimer St.,
Suite 101, Denver,
4-10 p.m. weekdays and Sundays
4-11 p.m. Friday/Saturday
Happy Hour: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
No reservations are accepted.

One of the 10 best new restaurants in Denver, 5280 magazine.

One of the 25 best restaurants in Denver, 5280 magazine.

One of the Top 14 new restaurants in the country, Zagat.

One of the 21 best new restaurants in America, Thrillist.

Best new restaurant, Colorado Restaurant Association

One item on Work & Class’ one-page menu piques more curiosity than others. Read here.

What are five traits that you think have been instrumental in getting you from your days at Roma in Greeley to owning your own successful restaurant Work & Class? Read here.