American Grind started life as a mobile food vendor in the summer of 2014, serving diner-style burgers and milkshakes. Owner Jared Schwartz soon had to "put that idea to sleep for a while," he recalls, because he was busy opening the Way Back with fellow Linger alumni Chad Michael George and Kade Gianinetti. But Schwartz's love of a good, simple burger — engendered by childhood memories of Swensons in his home town of Akron, Ohio — kept the dream alive. And with the Way Back coming up on its first anniversary, the three knew it was time to relaunch American Grind, which will ditch its original trailer and open inside Avanti Food & Beverage on Monday, January 16.
Black-and-white photos of the original Swensons show signs advertising "hamburg sandwiches," and that will be the focus of American Grind, with a hamburg, cheeseburg and veggieburg listed as the first three menu options. But Schwartz departs from fast-food standards by utilizing local producers and Colorado farmers for beef, produce, buns and other key ingredients. "We're trying to break away from that national food system and tie into a local one," Gianinetti notes. "A burger should be different depending on where you're at" — a notion that's completely the opposite of the uniformity and consistency preached by national burger chains over the past fifty years.
One way to eliminate reliance on the national food system is to make everything from scratch; American Grind's ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and ranch dressing are all made in-house, and the beef and pork come from Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, which sources all of its meat from farms and ranches located within a 250-mile radius of Denver. For the buns, the team turned to the Rolling Pin Bakeshop, a new bakery in Five Points that makes challah buns just for American Grind.
Gianinetti says that Western Daughters grinds beef for American Grind using trimmings from a wide variety of cuts. "We're utilizing all cuts to help them reduce their waste," he explains. There's also an Iowa-style fried-pork sandwich on the menu that uses collar instead of the more traditional loin. "It's pounded thin and beautifully marbled," Schwartz says.
Seasonality is also important to the team, so you won't see pale winter tomatoes on the burgers or strawberry ice cream (also made from scratch) in the middle of January. Instead, American Grind will introduce specials that highlight the best of the seasons, whether it's a Pineapple Express burger with jalapeños or fruit-filled shakes based on the Colorado harvest.
Since Avanti F&B is a restaurant incubator, the American Grind team says it plans to grow once its two-year lease is up. "As a company, we have pretty big dreams for affecting the food community," Gianinetti says. "We're looking at how we can use technology, how we can pay people what they need to be paid — and still put a good burger on the plate."
He adds that he can envision several locations of American Grind, whether in Denver, along the Front Range or in other cities like Portland, Oregon — with each outpost relying on local purveyors for meat and produce.
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While the whole team has been part of the menu development since day one (the current veggieburg, made with beets, carrots, sweet potato, chickpeas and chickpea flour, is the result of three years of development), kitchen manager Caitlin Allison will oversee day-to-day operations in the shipping-container kitchen, located on the ground floor of Avanti in the space just vacated by Mijo. In addition to the everyday menu and occasional specials, you'll find happy-hour discounts from 2 to 6 p.m., with $1 off burgers and chili-cheese fries for $5.