When the Walnut Room at Broadway and Ellsworth Avenue closed last August, it was only a matter of time before someone snatched up the desirable corner location in the heart of one of Denver's hottest destination bar and restaurant districts. What's coming is far from the expected upscale taqueria, wood-fired pizzeria or burger bar, however. Instead, the neighborhood will get a Chinese hot-pot restaurant with a refrigerated conveyor-belt system that delivers traditional dishes in a high-tech setting. The restaurant goes by the unlikely name of Chubby Cattle and will be only the second in the country, after the original that opened in Las Vegas last year.
Chubby Cattle was founded by Haibin Yang, whose family also runs a Mongolian restaurant chain called Little Lamb. With financial backing from New York investment firm NXTFactor, the first Chubby Cattle launched with a first-of-its-kind enclosed conveyor belt that delivers meats and other hot-pot ingredients to each table ice-cold. According to NXTFactor spokesman David Zhao, the company spent more than $1 million on the buildout of the flagship restaurant.
The Broadway Chubby Cattle will hold a similar system, along with iPad menu stations to help diners make choices of soup bases, ingredients, sauces and other dishes. A new feature at the Denver outpost will be an additional train-track line above the conveyor belt that can deliver more food items straight from the kitchen to individual tables. "We are combining a historical cuisine that is thousands of years old with modern technology," Zhao explains.
While the Las Vegas original is ensconced in a retail zone heavy with other ethnic eateries (similar to what you might find in the heart of Aurora), the company is banking on the current interest in culinary exploration — and especially hot pot — among American diners to attract Denverites to the Broadway location. Zhao notes that Chubby Cattle's current customer base is 70 percent non-Chinese, and that number could be even higher in Denver. Hot-pot restaurants are a growing trend in the U.S. (and even in Denver, with
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Yum Yum Spice, Bronze Empire and Little Chengdu all opening in the past year); NXTFactor plans to expand the Chubby Cattle concept into Dallas and Philadelphia this year and is also targeting San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Zhao says the menu at the Denver Chubby Cattle will take from the best of the Las Vegas location; that includes several soup bases (original, tomato, mushroom, seafood and Hellishly Spicy). Meat, seafood and vegetable platters are then added. In addition, noodle bowls, dumplings and other Chinese and Mongolian entrees and sides will be offered.
Chubby Cattle expects to open in early summer this year for lunch, dinner and late-night snacks seven days a week.