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A new era of Denver dining



This month marks two years since the COVID-19 pandemic left restaurants across the country locking their doors with no clue when — or IF they’d be able to open again.

Denver’s culinary landscape is a different world compared to how we left it in pre-pandemic times. So much has changed — we’ve lost too many local treasures to count and fretted over the fates of many favorites.

But it wasn’t all bad — the outdoor extended-patio dining program has stuck around to most everyone’s joy; mental health has become more of an industry priority; and we even managed to snag some serious wins (Casa Bonita gets a real chef?? Who’da thought).

There have also been a few unexpected resurrections. Just this week, after months of silence, Benny’s in Cap Hill announced plans to reopen soon. (In fact, they’re looking for some fan feedback as they rebrand.)

Some changes are going to take some getting used to for workers and diners — like restaurants abandoning tips or implementing service fees in the name of pay equity. Denverite spoke with some local restaurateurs on the subject, and we recently interviewed Chef Frank Bonnano about it, who was one of the first in the city to use what he calls the “Creating Happy People Fee.”

Whether good, bad, or unexpected, all of the changes over the last two years have, in some way, reaffirmed the resilience of Denver diners, chefs, and servers, and our united commitment to making our little slice of America something especially delicious.

On that note, here’s the latest in local food news, fresh from the kitchen:

  • Natalie sells popular vegan Pop-Tart pastries at Popster pop-ups around town. (Try saying that five times fast!) Natalie Slevin, owner of the celebrated Broadway bakery, Sugar Bakeshop, has made the decision to close her store in order to focus exclusively on taking her most popular pastry, the vegan Popster, to a whole new level. [BusinessDen]
  • Denver-based burger chain Smashburger is getting into the bar business. Its newest location opening in Lowry next weekend will have a full bar serving draft beers and original cocktails. [Denver Post]
  • Denver’s own “Top Chef” alum, Carrie Baird, is going all in on breakfast. This summer, Baird plans to bring brunch offerings to the Highlands community with Fox and The Hen. [Denver Post]
  • Trinidad is getting Sexy Grandma’s, a concept collaboration between Denver-based Sexy Pizza and Grandma’s House where the best of both worlds will collide in craft beer and premium pizza. [Axios Denver]


“People would come to him on Santa Fe Drive, but I think in his mind it was still small town, and he didn’t realize the impact that he was making, and that our organization was making.” — Arlette Lucero

Artist Stevon Lucero’s Chicano Futurism Lives on Inside Meow Wolf
Chicano artists haven’t always gotten the respect they deserve in Colorado. It wasn’t that long ago when they couldn’t even get their work into prominent galleries around Denver. And that pushed artists like Stevon Lucero to the margins where he spent a lifetime painting canvases and walls with mystic imagery and his own spectacular view of the universe.

Stevon passed away last year, but not before finishing a room at Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station. And starting this Friday, Stevon’s wife, artist Arlette Lucero, and friends will open a special exhibit in his honor at Convergence Station. Host Bree Davies got a special tour of the exhibit and chatted with Arlette about her husband’s legacy and what his artistry has meant for the Chicano community and beyond.


TODAY marks our one-year anniversary! Thank you to the many, many City Cast Denver readers and listeners who have written in to wish us a happy first birthday! We couldn’t have done it without you 💚🌇

“Thank you for starting this podcast, I love listening! I have lived here for a few years now and my husband is a native to Denver. It gives me a taste of Denver’s history while also discussing important current events. When I mention things I have learned on the podcast to my husband he often says ‘you are going to know more about Denver than I do and I grew up here!’ Keep up the good work.” — Jacqui D.

“I love City Cast because you’ve all worked very diligently to curate a unique voice. While I don’t always agree with the takes, or sometimes wish you’d focus on things I’m more personally interested in, counterintuitively, that’s what I like best about it. It’s important to expose oneself to differing viewpoints, experiences, and aspects of the city normally outside a personal field of view. Keep up the good work, and congrats on the 1-year anniversary!” — Jon E. 


⛰️ Denver takes a big loss to Salt Lake: Outdoor Retailer, the outdoor recreational industry’s behemoth trade show, announced yesterday it will be leaving Denver, after five years here, to return to its once longtime home in Salt Lake City. [CO Sun]

  • 👀 All eyes are on REI, The North Face, and Patagonia: The three industry heavy-hitters, among other big-name outdoor brands, previously threatened to boycott the show if it went back to Utah…   
  • 🥊 This feud goes waaay back: Colorado and Utah have been beefing over who does outdoors better forever. Insults really started to hurl when Denver stole Outdoor Retailer from Utah back in 2017. You can catch up quickly with this breakdown I wrote last month. 

🚷 Union Station is getting a prickly new look: An increase in crime, drug use, and loitering at the downtown transportation hub has already led to more police patrols. Now, RTD officials have announced plans to install turnstiles, barriers, and security monitors within the next 6-12 months.  [Denverite]

🏓 “Mayor of Pickleball”: The man facing criminal charges and an arrest warrant for using a permanent marker to draw pickleball boundaries on the basketball court at Central Park Rec Center has been identified. He is 71-year-old Arslan Guney, also known to some in the community as the “Mayor of Pickleball.” [Denverite

  • 🤔 Criminal mischief or simple mistake? Guney’s lawyer says the pickleball enthusiast was just retracing faded markings previously made by rec center staff.
  • 💬 “He thought because of the previous marks there would be no problem… He had no intention to deface, to damage or destroy property,” the lawyer says, adding that Guney is willing to “apologize and to pay any reasonable damages.” But so far, it appears rec center officials are moving forward with charges

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