Lygizos and Hendricks are both restaurant veterans who met while working at Potager. Hendricks is a Colorado Springs native and a graduate of Johnson & Wales University; he worked at Potager for six and a half years as a cook and head chef after time spent in kitchens in California. Lygizos worked at Little Ollie's while attending the University of Denver, then honed his skills in the front of the house and on the business side of restaurants, helping open eateries in Aspen (where he also worked at the Little Nell) while also delving into the world of wine. In Denver, he did a stint as GM at Ace Eat Serve.
Hendricks explains that a sandwich shop, while sounding like a step down from fine dining, is the perfect fit. With a two-year-old child at home, he and his wife were growing tired of the late hours of a restaurant chef, but he still wanted to maintain control of the ingredients and use only the best products available. "I want to make really good food, but put it on a sandwich," he says.
So Leven's menu will feature pastrami that takes fourteen days to cure and smoke, along with meats roasted in-house, all served on sourdough flatbreads in sandwiches that Lygizos and Hendricks are calling "levens," a word meant to convey the notion of naturally risen bread and a sense of lightness.
The partners both grew up surrounded by sandwiches. "It's a culmination of growing up in a working-class family," Hendricks says. "All I ate was sandwiches."
For Lygizos, it was a specific deli he recalls from his youth: Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where both of his parents are from. "This was always a super treat. If you behaved in the car, you might be able to go inside," he explains.
Lygizos says their goal is to capture some of that experience of walking into a classic deli while also adding a more modern note. Finding the right space was the first order of business. After nearly two years of searching, the perfect location became available at the corner of West 12th Avenue and Bannock, in a building originally built in 1899 and currently owned by Civitas, a landscape architecture firm. The address has never held a restaurant, so Leven's owners will be able to start from scratch with the design, which will include an open kitchen, a dining area with nearly 100 seats that segues into a small market, and even a bike-up window for takeout orders — an idea that sprang from watching the many commuters using the bike lane just outside.
Hendricks and Lygizos are both sticklers for detail, putting thought into everything from the perfect paper for wrapping sandwiches (what's truly recyclable or compostable while maintaining the perfect sandwich inside) to the right service ware (they'll be using Crow Canyon, which they love so much, they'll also be selling it in their market). For meats, they turned to Aspen Ridge because of the company's dedication to naturally raised and humanely treated livestock.
Construction will begin in the next few days, and the two hope to open in April. They'll have a beer-and-wine license and will be open for lunch and dinner with a menu of levens and other reimagined deli classics.