The 16th Street Mall took a lot of hits over the past year, and they keep on coming: After six years, Cho77 closed last week at 1520 16th Street. But the space around the corner from the flagship ChoLon won't be empty long: Founder/chef Lon Symensma and his ChoLon Restaurant Concepts team will fill it with YumCha, a dumpling and noodle bar set to open in late June.
The story of Cho77, which was dedicated to Southeast Asian street food, stretches back more than a decade, to when Symensma and colleague Ryan Gorby decided to bring their dining vision inspired by Asian cuisine to Denver and opened ChoLon in 2010. Five years later, they introduced the more casual Cho77 at 42 South Broadway.
But while the place got good reviews, the location seemed to be a problem. "It was supposed to take off the way RiNo did," Symensma recalls. When it didn't, they moved Cho77 downtown two years ago...but that didn't help, either. "Street food has never really taken off in Denver," he explains.
When the pandemic put the brakes on the dining scene in general, it was a bad time for the restaurant business, but "a really great time to re-evaluate," Symensma says. "If you need to pivot, now's the time to do it."
The pivot for Cho77 landed on noodles and dumplings, and the ChoLon crew decided to close the place, make some cosmetic changes, and switch street food for fare that was easier to explain...and market. "Noodles and dumplings are buzzwords. Street food caused confusion," he notes.
"I love noodles," Symensma admits. "It's a real treat to showcase the dumpling, noodle bar concept." And to showcase the work of Michelle Xiao, one of the best dumpling makers in New York City before he coaxed her into moving to Denver to work her magic at his restaurants, specifically the second ChoLon, which opened in Central Park in 2019.
Xiao is now working on variations for YumCha, which will have a lower price point than ChoLon and be "a fun little spot...when lunch crowds come back," Symensma says.
And weekend crowds: YumCha will also emphasize dim sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. "We're elevating dim sum to the next level," he promises.