Like Father, Like Son

In honor of Father's Day on June 16, we asked five favorite Denver dads and their sons to talk about family traditions, lessons learned, and the bonds that tie them together.

Rafail Kikirov and Sons Semion and Roman

Photo by Jeff Nelson

“When you are 14 or 15, you will become a barber.”

That’s what Rafail Kikirov told older son Semion more than two decades ago, when the family still lived in the Soviet Union.

Semion was surprised, but he probably shouldn’t have been. “Our dad was a barber. So was his brother. So were all of my cousins,” says younger son Roman, 31. “It was a thing, you know? They always said, ‘You have to know how to cut hair.’ “ Adds Semion, 38: “He told me: ‘Regardless of your desires, you must learn how to cut hair, because you never know what’s going to happen to you.’ ”

That advice paid off. After members of the Kikirov family moved to the U.S. in 1999, some worked as barbers in New York before this branch of the family moved to Denver in 2001. After working at Floyd’s Barbershop for nine years, Semion opened up his own shop, Semion Barbershop for All, in 2011, and then a second shop at the Stanley Marketplace in 2017. “Being a barber is the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Semion, “because there are not many jobs out there where you can actually interact with people. I love it with all my heart.” Today, Semion and Roman spend time in both shops making sure their customers are not only well-groomed but happy. “A good barber is a Rafail Kikirov and sons Semion and Roman good communicator,” says Semion, “a guy who knows how to listen and make a client feel comfortable in the chair.”

What was the best advice their dad ever gave them? For Roman, it’s this: “If you do good things in life, that good will come back to you. If you do bad things, that will come back to you, too.” For Semion, something equally steadfast: “If you want to go get something, go get it. Nothing’s going to be given to you.”

As for dad’s hair-cutting advice: “Don’t strive to compete too hard,” Roman says. “Just make yourself the best. He was right. Everybody cuts hair, but there is one thing we don’t share, and that is personality.”

And why is Semion’s barbershop “for all”? Says Semion: “Because, for me, coming to America from the Soviet Union, it’s all about diversity. What do we do? We cut hair. And everybody who has hair—black, Hispanic, Asian—is welcome here.” —Alison Gwinn

Mickey and Kyle Zeppelin

Photo by Jeff Nelson

Kyle Zeppelin calls his dad Mickey. Not Father. Not Dad. Not Pops. But Mickey.

It shows the kind of equality the two have forged after more than two decades working together in real estate at Zeppelin Development.

Mickey, 81, a Denver native, got into the business 40 years ago after tiring of his law practice (“I guess I liked the action of real estate,” he says now). Kyle, 46, one of his four kids, joined the family business after law school, the only sibling to do so. “We were encouraged to do our own thing—it wasn’t assumed that I was going to be the heir,” says Kyle, “but I started to get drawn into the business, gained some confidence, and closed a few deals….”

“I was a little shocked initially at how he dove right into the business,” Mickey says. “We went through a few learning lessons, but he basically brought in youth and a great deal of creativity. He has a lot of ideas and I think he’s changed the business. He’s an innovator; I’ve always been a risk taker, but he outdoes me.”

The Zeppelins are the engine behind a range of projects, including redefining LoDo, the Golden Triangle, and RiNo, tag-teaming some and flying solo on others. “I think the growth is really to a large extent due to Kyle,” says Mickey. “I can’t say I didn’t have anything to do with it—I’ve brought a little wisdom—but he picked up the ball and ran with it. He has real leadership qualities.”

But that wisdom was key. “Basically, I learned everything from Mickey,” says Kyle. “His approach to real estate is different from everyone else’s in this market, even nationally, where projects are an end unto themselves. We have the opposite approach. We’re not just doing projects because there’s a proven financial model that’s been done hundreds of times. Our goal is really to approach it backwards: What does the community need, and how can we uniquely provide that?

“I also learned about the integration of a career life and personal values. Neither of us have clear lines where we stop caring. There’s a level of commitment and passion that goes beyond the typical.” —Alison Gwinn

Tony Rossaci and Sons Daniel and Mick

Photo by Jeff Nelson

Forty years ago, when Tony Rossaci, 78, opened a small corner butcher shop in Centennial called Tony’s Meats and Market, he had no idea it would grow into a family-run institution with four locations across Colorado and another on the way. He was just trying to make ends meet in the best way he knew how—as a grocer with a knack for customer service. “He just loved customers,” says Daniel, 54, Tony’s younger son, who now runs the company. “He took care of the customers. He made it feel like family for all the customers who came in. He was the hardest-working person I knew.”

Tony’s boys, Daniel and Mick, 59,started in the business as young teens—serving, cutting meat, cleaning—and liked it so much they never wanted to leave. “I wanted them to go to CU to get business degrees,” says Tony. “Daniel talked to a counselor, who told him, ‘You want a business degree? Go work for your dad.’ That was it. He’s been in the business ever since.”

Though the company has grown tremendously, the heart of it has always been the Rossaci family. “We’ve always been about food,” says Mick, who works as the company’s corporate chef and food service buyer. “That’s what pulls everybody together. Of course, we’ve all got our ideas—and of course I’m always right—but everyone has respect for each other’s skills.”

“The bloodline’s the same, the philosophy’s the same,” says Daniel. “Taking care of our customers, taking care of our employees, serving the best meat in town. All those things have filtered through our dad to us.”

Today, Tony spends winters in Arizona, but he still insists on working the occasional Saturday shift for the pure joy of it. He wants his customers to know he still cares about them. “Maybe it sounds corny, but that’s the golden rule,” he says. “Just treat everybody with dignity and respect. It’s the right thing to do.”

That may be one reason Tony still comes in to work, but to Daniel, there’s another—no less important: “He’s still just having fun.” —Andrew Weaver

Buz Koelbel and Sons Carl,Walt, and Dean

Photo by Jeff Nelson

At Koelbel family dinners, the boys heard their father and grandfather talking business. “But Dad didn’t want us to get into real estate,” recalls the middle son, Walt, 33.

“Well, it wasn’t that I didn’t want them to go into real estate,” says Buz, 66.

“He told us not to go into real estate,” interrupts Carl, 35, as the others laugh.

Buz laughs, too, but says, “I wanted them to follow their passion, because you’ll only be good if you’re following your passion. But evidently they paid a lot of attention at the dinner table and on property tours, and one thing led to the next.”

Carl collected an MBA from CU’s Leeds School of Business; Walt graduated from the University of Kansas and became a licensed Colorado real estate broker; and Dean, 33, went to Indiana University, majoring in finance and earning a certificate from IU’s Kelley School of Business. Carl joined the family business, started in 1952 by Walter A. Koelbel, in 2010. Dean came back in 2015, and Walt returned in 2016.

“There’s some overlap, but not too much,” Dean says. “We all have our own silos (Dean focusing on RiNo development, Walt on office/retail, and Carl on the urban housing) and come together and bounce ideas off each other.”

Buz is grateful. “You hear a lot about the millennial generation,” he says, “but they bring a lot of the ideas that live with their generation. And that helps us do different projects from what we used to do. I’m overseeing some legacy projects that we’re winding out of, but they’re in charge of all of the new stuff we’re doing.”

There’s more good news for the Koelbels. Each son has two children and a baby on the way. By the end of September, Buz and wife Sherri will have nine grandchildren, all under age 5. Chances are pretty good some of that real estate DNA will carry on. —Susan Fornoff

Kevin and Ryan Taylor

Photo by Jeff Nelson

Ryan Taylor was born into the restaurant business: His father, Denver restaurateur Kevin Taylor, burst onto the scene with Zenith in the penthouse of the Tivoli Center, and Ryan arrived a few months later.

“I was the little kitchen kid,” says Ryan, now 30. “When we moved Zenith to the Bank Building on Arapahoe Street, I remember we had a whole pastry department, so I used to go back and eat about 100 cookies.”

So when exactly did Kevin encourage Ryan to follow in his footsteps? “I encouraged him not to do it!” exclaims the father.

“He pushed me out of it, or tried to,” agrees Ryan. “But of course, as a rebellious kid you do what your parents tell you not to.”

As with the other fathers and sons in these pages, DNA triumphed in the end. When Kevin saw 15-year-old Ryan take on a summer job at Restaurant Kevin Taylor, then stay on for weekends during the school year, plating salads and doing some desserts, he saw a familiar passion.

“He’s incredibly focused and passionate and driven and talented,” says Kevin. “You can advise someone, ‘It’s too much work,’ with 12-to-14-hour days six days a week, but it’s also an incredibly passionate career. So I encouraged that.”

After high school, Ryan continued working in his father’s restaurants. He took a few “stages” (cooking internships) in other kitchens to learn new techniques to supplement his father’s finedining expertise, but, just as Kevin started his career hands-on at age 14, there would be no college or culinary school for Ryan.

“Seeing my father working so much— originally, he was still running the line and that sort of thing—I saw how hard it was, but it was something I really wanted to do,” says Ryan. “I couldn’t have had a better teacher.”

Ryan became an equal partner when the family opened Hickory & Ash in 2017. With Masa opening last January, Ryan is working 12 to 14 hours six days a week, as executive chef and more. Kevin, 57, still works six days a week, but not in the kitchen and not at night. His 14- hour days are over.

Ryan says of the future, “We have this running joke: I’m 30 years old, but I’ve got another 30 years left. At least.” —Susan Fornoff