Colorado fine-dining inspires App State graduate to open CoBo sushi bar


Jaina Lewis

Joesph Miller is the owner of both CoBo Sushi and Black Cat Burrito. Miller is from Colorado and the name of his sushi restaurant is a play on “Colorado” and “Boone.”

Savannah Nguyen, Senior A&C Reporter

The weather-beaten face of Joseph Miller, only 35 years old, glowed pink from years of shredding the Colorado slopes. In the ski town of Steamboat Springs, he curated a taste for fine dining that inspired him to open a sushi restaurant in Boone: CoBo Sushi Bistro and Bar.

The name, which took roughly 50 attempts to get right, Miller said, combines Colorado and Boone.

“I wanted to create a sushi restaurant in Boone with the intent to do something different,” Miller said.

Everything from the decor—featuring heavy wood grain and pillars of exposed raw cut stone—to the Blue Ridge Mountain references to the menu with deep fried rolls and locally named dishes “doesn’t make the place scream Asian,” Miller said.

Before opening the restaurant, Miller said he did not see himself owning a sushi place in Boone. Although he has lived in North Carolina for most of his life, he moved to Colorado soon after graduating from App State in 2007.

“One cool thing about living in a ski town is the lifestyle,” Miller said.

For five years he lived in Colorado, relishing in the life of a ski bum, shacked up like a sardine in small apartments living with a crowd of other people, Miller said. Like many other locals in Steamboat, Miller lived paycheck to paycheck. Life was filled with a lot of hard work, responsibility and drinking, but the skiing made it worth it, Miller said.

Despite being a working-class individual among affluent tourists worth millions populating eateries and slopes of the ski town, Miller still enjoyed everything Steamboat offered.

Because of the amount of money funneled into the tourist town, high-end restaurants were not uncommon.

“That allowed me to work in the best, eat the best and work with the most expensive ingredients for the highest paying clientele,” Miller said.

This also allowed Miller to work with some of the best quality fish in the world and sell it at fine-dining prices.

Miller knew Colorado was not where his life would end up. Although the ski bum lifestyle was fun, it was too much fun, making a year-long endeavor stretch into five.

“Since I grew up here in Boone I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss it,” Miller said. “Originally, I kind of wanted to get out of here. But after leaving for so long the mission was figuring out how to get back.”

Finally back in Boone with the objective to sell a Colorado-level experience and quality sushi at Boone-friendly prices, Miller started designing his restaurant.

“When we started designing the place, it started to feel really nice. That’s when we started to dress it down,” Miller said. 

During the process of forging the look and feel of CoBo, Miller and a team of high school friends constructed an experience that stood out while appealing to a wide range of customers: locals, students, ski families and tourists of all kinds.

“The first thing people tell us is that when you step in you feel like you’ve left Boone even though you’re still in it,” Miller said.

This was accomplished through an army of Miller’s old friends who now own local businesses like Titan Custom Builders, Freedom ElecTech, Innovative Waterworks and Priscilla Hyatt with Dianne Davant and Associates.

“He is so meticulous, he wants to be hands-on with everything,” Hyatt said. “It was really fun working together because I needed a project and this was the perfect challenge for me and I think the result is such a happy medium between rustic and fine dining.”

Miller opened his restaurant when he was 29 years old. CoBo has been open for six years, and Miller said he has not had a drink in approximately 4 1/2 years.

“My mentality has become much more business-professional oriented. The transition has pretty much been 180 degrees,” Miller said.

Miller did not stop at managing a Colorado restaurant when he was in his early 20s. He didn’t even stop when he opened a restaurant at 29. Miller’s drive was not satisfied after getting CoBo up and running. After five years of going against the grain, he wanted to expand something.   

When Black Cat Burrito, a local Mexican restaurant and bar went up for sale, Miller, now 34, sat on the opportunity for awhile. But Miller’s dad, Wayne Miller, the retired owner of Footsloggers, was set on purchasing the restaurant and split the newly for sale restaurant with his son.

“Nothing was wrong with Black Cat the way it was before,” Wayne Miller said. “When we bought it we just wanted to go in there and refurbish it, clean it up a bit, but still give people what they expected, which was good, fresh food that was made only when someone ordered it.”

Although Joseph Miller said he is obsessed with staying ahead of the curve, he doesn’t consider himself a lone wolf in the Boone restaurant game. He is still community-driven.

“All of us are helping to grow the community,” Joseph Miller said about other restaurants in town. “As competitive as restaurants can be, we are all trying to build this community competitively together. We are keeping all of the corporate restaurants on their toes.”