‘Big city chefs’ bring cosmopolitan flair to Mile High

801 Chophouse
801 Chophouse, a popular steakhouse in the Midwest, recently opened its first Colorado location in Cherry Creek. Courtesy Eric Lucero Photography LLC
Kelly Greene

Kelly Greene
President, Urban Legend Retail Group, Denver

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Denver’s culinary scene is rapidly evolving and attracting the interest of chefs and restaurateurs from some of the nation’s most prominent dining cities, including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas. In fact, in 2016, approximately 220 new restaurants with “imported” roots opened, and many more are on the way.

Lara Silversmith

Lara Silversmith
Junior broker, Urban Legend Retail Group, Denver

There are many reasons for Denver’s appeal to restaurateurs. First and foremost is a growing population of sophisticated millennials who are migrating to Denver in large part due to the expanding job market. Job opportunities in Denver are plentiful, with an unemployment rate of only 2.9 percent, a developing startup scene and major firms such as Google, British Petroleum, Charles Schwab and Gusto establishing significant footprints here.

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Further contributing factors to this migration are a more moderate cost of living than metropolitan cities like Manhattan and San Francisco, and the exceptional quality of life. The core demographic enjoys eating and drinking out and appears to prioritize spending their disposable income on experiential dining, as opposed to shopping and accumulating material possessions. In fact, since 2005 sales at food service and drinking places have grown twice as fast as all other retail spending. In 2016, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money in restaurants and bars than at grocery stores.

Restaurateurs and chefs who are focused on delivering new concepts and talent are meeting this increase in demand for a creative dining experience. They view Denver as a burgeoning opportunity to expand their businesses in a consumer and, heretofore, labor-friendly environment.

Some of the newest “out-of-town” additions to Denver include:

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  • STK Steakhouse and Quality Italian Steakhouse from Manhattan;
  • Rhein House from Seattle;
  • Tupelo Honey Cafe from Asheville, North Carolina;
  • Thirsty Lion and Departure from Portland;
  • Public School from Dallas;
  • 801 Chophouse from Des Moines, Iowa;
  • Postino from Phoenix;
  • Rusty Bucket from Columbus, Ohio; and
  • Hopdoddy and Torchy’s from Austin.

Some of the “big city chefs” bringing restaurant ideas from out-of-state are Tyson Cole (Uchi), Brian Vaughn (Low Country Kitchen), Clint Wangsnes (Chop Shop) and Luke Bergman (Concourse Restaurant Moderne), to name just a few. These are the kinds of intimate, sophisticated concepts that are infiltrating the Denver restaurant market.

Millennials statistically are foregoing marriage and raising a family – seven years later in life than the baby boomers, on average – and choosing to live a fun-filled nightlife for a longer period of time. And with all that creative restaurateurs are bringing to the table, why wouldn’t they? Denver has become a hotbed for this kind of activity.

Restaurateurs and chefs from big city environments view Denver as a tremendous opportunity for growth and adventure of their own. They believe in Denver as a city that is ready to try new things. In fact, in many respects, Denver is challenging new restaurants to raise the bar, above and beyond what they may already be doing elsewhere. This is a city that is filled with people willing to take risks and looking for risk takers.

Featured in CREJ’s May Retail Properties Quarterly. 

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.