Two months back, word came that the Way Back and American Grind owners Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti and Jared Schwartz had landed the lease for the former Zengo and La Güera space, and were plotting Wayward, a restaurant that would expand on the ethos of their flagship in a much larger space.
“We’re trying to inspire people to use, expand and rely on a more regional food system," George told us at the time. "This is a much bigger platform to send our message out, and I think the food there will reflect that.”
Not following them to Little Raven, however, are chefs Marcus Eng and Sam Charles, who will remain in control of the kitchen at the Way Back. And the team now reveals that Patrick Kelly, who moved to Denver to take over from Elise Wiggins at Panzano, will run the kitchen as executive chef.
Kelly's roots are in farm-to-table fare; his culinary upbringing happened in lauded Bay Area restaurants like La Folie, Angele and with the group that encompasses Gitane, Claudine and Cafe Claude.
"We're really excited to have Patrick on board," says Gianinetti. "He's spent his last couple of jobs in hotel life, away from his roots, which are in small farm-to-table restaurants, executing at a really high level. He's excited about getting back to an ingredient-driven restaurant and getting back to [his] passion of creating really cool dishes that fit with Colorado."
The partners are giving Kelly free rein on the menu, which is still in development, as long as he adheres to the group's regional-food philosophy. "We’re really leaving it up to him on what happens menu-wise," says Gianinetti. "The only framework is the food philosophy. We're not going to compromise on sourcing; we'll still build relationships with local farmers and source regionally. Proteins and vegetables will sort of share the stage."
When he announced the venture, George also mentioned that the cocktail program would be whiskey-focused. To take control of that, the guys brought on Alex Flower, who's been the director of operations at Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn. Flower will also operate with the same seasonal and local focus that drives the Way Back, but because of the size of the new bar and restaurant, she'll tailor the menu so that it can serve crowds quickly. "I haven’t worked in anything super-large, so I'm excited to work with that, and to expand the bar focus and space from what it physically was," she says.
Above all, Flower emphasizes creating a comfortable space for all types of drinkers: "The approachability factor is what’s important. We want to be known as a bar that you can hang out at. We want to be known for cocktails, as well, but not just cocktails. Some people are really comfortable going into cocktail bars, but I want the person who’s not necessarily comfortable walking into Williams & Graham and plopping down to come here and feel comfortable with me saying, 'Let me lead you.'" Given the nature of the Little Raven neighborhood, she also expects to have a busy happy hour.
The guys also brought on a fellow Edible Beats (which operates Linger, Root Down and others) alum as general manager: Peter Gordon will oversee the front of the house. "We worked with Peter with Edible Beats, and we really saw him come into his own, from a pretty new floor manager to a really great GM," says Gianinetti. "We’ve talked with him a ton about food philosophy and the future of Denver’s dining scene. Those things matched up. We couldn’t think of a better person to be at the helm as a GM and help us execute this bigger restaurant concept."
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While Wayward will maintain its sibling's ethos, Gianinetti emphasizes that this is likely going to feel like a totally different place, geared more toward downtown inhabitants and travelers than the Way Back. "The Way Back is a sixty-seat restaurant. Taking that same food philosophy and translating that into a 200-seat Little Raven space is going to make it completely different. We're looking at the clientele, businesses, the happy-hour culture, and asking, how do we fit into that area? That’s where we’re at; we’re not here to say here’s who we are. We’re here to grow with the community and push our food values."
Wayward is still on track for an August opening. When it does open, the team will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus offer grab-and-go breakfast and lunch options from the former La Güera space (which will become private dining at night).
We reached out to Panzano to find out who will take over the burners now that Kelly has moved on; the restaurant ownership (under the Kimpton Hotel banner) is currently conducting a search for a new chef.