When you're looking for food on the 16th Street Mall these days, chains make up the majority of options, save for a few notable locally owned holdouts. One of those had been Cho77 at 1520 16th Street, located around the corner from restaurateur Lon Symensma's flagship ChoLon.
Symensma moved the Southeast Asian street food concept to 16th Street from South Broadway in 2019. 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 told Westword in May, soon after he closed Cho77. "If you need to pivot, now's the time to do it."
Nearly six months after that location closed, on November 17 Symensma will reopen the address as YumCha. The eatery will focus on noodles inspired by Symensma's travels in Asia, as well as dumplings from one of New York City's best dumpling makers, Michelle Xiao, who moved to Denver and joined the ChoLon Restaurant Concepts group in 2019.
"It does seem to be a trend in Denver right now," Symensma explains. "Dumplings are super hot, noodles are very popular...and a lot of our best-selling dishes on the menu [at Cho77] were dumplings and noodles."
Rounding out the offerings are a handful of snacks like crunchy shrimp balls and Peking duck scallion pancakes, as well as the "Noodles and Fun" section of six items including pork belly ramen, a pad Thai glass noodle salad and mapo tofu.
The opening is essentially a rebrand, so it's not as involved as opening a restaurant from scratch. The menu was developed over the past three months as Symensma juggled that job with running his two ChoLon locations — the original downtown and one in Central Park. And the interior was also updated. "We did some cool stuff, some paint, got some new chairs. We put this really cool dragon image on one of the walls, which looks super-sharp," he notes.
The timing of the opening has aligned with a boost in business downtown. "It's a lot less of the businesspeople that are downtown working, and it's a lot more just people that are enjoying Denver," Symensma says. "But there are definitely many, many, many more people downtown than there were, let's just say, six months ago."
And the diners who are out are enthusiastic, he adds, noting that people "have been cooped up for so long they're just really excited to be out and celebrating and just enjoying the act of dining again."
LeRoux at 1510 16th Street in early December. ChoLon Restaurant Concepts also recently secured a new space: the Lakehouse at Sloan's Lake, 4200 West 17th Avenue. "We're going to be doing two concepts out of there [in 2022]," Symensma says. "It'll be a YumCha and another concept that we're still in the developmental stages on."
After an uncertain year in 2020, the ChoLon group is back on track for growth this year and beyond. "There's a lot going on," Symensma notes. "What we have on the other side of this makes me feel really, really happy and really proud that we're coming out of this thing stronger than before."
YumCha is located at 1520 16th Street and will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit yumchadenver.com.