The idea sprouted at a food truck-laden street fair in downtown San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, known for its gleaming buildings and acres of well-funded tech startups. The diverse food and casual vibrancy inspired Hank Grant, 32, and Matt Patrick to do something similar in Boulder.
After a few years of hustle, the addition of a third co-founder in Justin Riley and a successful 2014 Kickstarter campaign, that food truck vision became reality in July 2016, when the Rayback Collective — the indoor-outdoor event space/kombucha taproom/coffeeshop/tap house/live music venue/corn hole venue/food truck park aka “Boulder’s Backyard” — opened its doors at the former home of Boulder stalwart Rayback Plumbing Supply at 2775 Valmont Road.
In addition to a rotating cast of over 60 food trucks, Rayback offers draft cocktails, wine and more than 30 beers on tap, kombucha from Boulder’s own Rowdy Mermaid (who moved its taphouse onsite this fall), and Caribiner Coffee (which opens for daily 7 a.m. service beginning on Oct. 24). It’s open seven days a week for lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and dinner (5 to 9 p.m.).
Rayback embodies Boulder’s spirit more than perhaps any other space in town, especially on nice evenings. The Flatirons and the Front Range peak from the outdoor space, kids run around while parents and friends munch on food truck fare and sip wine, beer and kombucha under bands of string lights while inside the cavernous, warm interior groups enjoy live music, sports on big screen TVs and enjoy drinks. Everyone in the collective Rayback crowd appears as that sporty no-age that defines Boulder.
Bikeability enhances its charm. Rayback’s rear entrance borders Elmer’s Two Mile Creek Greenway, part of a bikeway system following creeks and drainage channels that allows riders to bypass street lights, stop signs and traffic on their way to food, drink and friends. Accordingly, bike racks overflow on weekend evenings.
Cruising up to Rayback from the south, riders emerge from an underpass to an immediate warm glow of string lights, relaxed people and community. The course, surrounded by water, quiet, stream-side vegetation and uninterrupted cruising, sets an exquisite tone that inevitably relaxes the body and softens the eyes.
A community design
This seemingly magical confluence of Boulder energy is not an accident.
Grant and his Rayback co-founders and collaborators worked hard to design the magic the place exudes. It starts with the diversity of businesses and experiences the over 10,000-square-foot place brings together in a space that offers a bit of something for all ages and demographics.
By blending the private event space with its public areas, the space maintains a dynamic mix, no matter the night.
It functions as a cipher, flexible (and big) enough to reflect and host almost any event. Its calendar illustrates this: hip-hop yoga, the CU Wind Symphony, pop-up retail shops such as cycling apparel maker Velocio, trivia and indoor corn hole tournaments (in winter), film festivals, rehearsal dinners, wedding receptions.
The place fosters a lounge vibe, which adds to its appeal. As Grant points out, you don’t have to spend money at Rayback — there’s the space and diversity to hang out without that pressure, an undercurrent accompanying many other public places. Instead of answering “To buy something” to the question “Why are you here?” you will say, “To hang with friends.”
A smart business model
Grant says he and his co-founders realized early on that having a kitchen and preparing food would be a highly involved nightmare, especially with little to no food prep expertise. With food trucks they can pick and choose from among the best food providers, such as Rollin’ Bones BBQ, The Ginger Pig and Farm and Smoke.
Just a few of food truck operators in Rayback’s rotation.
Food truck operators pay Rayback a percentage of their sales. Typically, at least four trucks are open for business on lunch and evenings. The space is also a dynamic event space — with the infrastructure in place at any time of day to accommodate large crowds. That’s why it has hosted over 500 events, including many for CU groups and for the city’s hallmark firms such as Zayo Group.
An earned soul
Rayback leveraged local design talent to shape its brand and story including 505 Design and Human Design.
Its simple, fun down-home spirit also comes from a frugal beginning. Angel investors and Kickstarter helped the idea take flight and Grant says Rayback has been in the black since day one. It had a small budget though, which required elbow grease, Overstock furniture, IKEA lights, a self-built chandelier, and a deconstructed and rebuilt walk-in cooler from the former Boulder Cafe.
“Justin and I were here many late nights,” Grant says. They tore down old fences to decorate the walls among many other projects they did by hand.
A Holy Spirit spark also drives Rayback — Grant and fellow co-founders Justin Riley and Matt Patrick are dedicated Christians. Patrick, in fact, helped found the Boulder church, The Well, where he serves as a pastor.
The group is working on a similar concept at a new venture in Denver with plans for opening in early summer 2018.