Gordon Sign's Glowing Legacy

The Happy Chef neon sign at Pete's Kitchen on Colfax Avenue in Denver.

Joshua Hardin

ONE HAPPY CHEF beckons diners to Denver’s East Colfax Avenue. In a never-ending loop of neon brilliance, his spatula flips pancakes over
and over, 24 hours a day.

Happy Chef came to Colfax in the economic boom following World War II. Businesses wanted to be noticed with big, bright and flashy neon signs. One company – Gordon Sign – was responsible for bringing many of those landmark signs to Denver, including Happy Chef. By the 1970s, streets like Colfax were ablaze in light. But the neon trend began to fade when community leaders and planning boards saw neon as too tacky, too commercial. 

Many of the neon tubes went dark, then eventually came down under the groan of restrictive sign codes in Denver, Lakewood and other Front Range communities. The 1950s-era Happy Chef at The Kitchen (now Pete’s Kitchen) could stay up, but the animated pancakes had to go.

In 2018, Pete’s Restaurants applied for and received zoning approval to reanimate Happy Chef’s neon spatula and flapjacks. With the flip of a switch, after 50 years, Happy Chef was back at work.

For the rest of the story see the May/June 2020 issue of Colorado Life.

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