Late last year, Brad Arguello, one of the founders of Über Sausage, a hot dog joint with locations on East Colfax and in LoHi, parted ways with his partners over what he calls "creative differences." But that break-up turned out to be the beginning of a new relationship for Arguello, who, along with business partners Patrick O'Neill (owner of Choppers Custom Salads and founder of The Club, in Vail), and Rob Hahn, co-founder and head of GRT, a LoHi real estate investment and development group that's backing the project, are gracing the Mile High City with Avanti Food & Beverage, a caboodle of eight shipping containers, all of which are designed to give cooks, chefs and restaurateurs the opportunity to test their dream concepts in a marketplace setting, sans the prohibitive costs -- and uneasy risks -- associated with opening a brick-and-mortar.
"Patrick and Rob were friends, and Patrick and I knew each other from our respective restaurants, so I approached him after I left Uber, because I wanted to do a fast-casual dim sum restaurant, and Rob had ideas about doing something similar to the San Miguel Market in Madrid [Spain], and those ideas eventually lead to all of us chatting about doing something bigger," namely a shipping container project, explains Arguello, that equates to a think-tank for enterprising culinarians. "It's like a food truck pod," he says, "except that the containers will be fixed, standalone food units that double as an incubation gathering platform for chefs and restaurateurs to dial in their menu, dial in their business model, and, most important, dial in their food without losing their shirt in the process." Think of this, suggests Arguello, as "a way to prove your concept and make sure that the public likes it before you pour every cent you have into a brick-and-mortar."
Those who lease a space pay a flat monthly fee, plus a small percentage of sales -- but the price of participation comes with perks, including business plan development expertise; marketing and public relations assistance; coverage of all front-of-house expenses; checklists and timelines to assist tenants before they open; professional kitchen equipment; a digital menu board (think train station flip board); and complimentary valet and common area maintenance. Tenants have leasing options of nine months, one year or a year-and-a-half.
Built in 1935, the multilevel, high-ceilinged, windowed space originally housed Gildersleeve's, a neighborhood drugstore. Two additions were erected during the mid century, and the entire building became an engine reconditioning shop until Avanti Printing & Graphics opened in 1991. While the printing company has since relocated, owners Brian and Chuck Hunter sold the building to Hahn, says Arguello, because of "Rob's commitment and desire to maintain the integrity of the building and make it into a special landmark within the community." In other words, preserve the rusticity and industrial elements -- and the enviable views.
"The design aesthetic will be a combination of industrial, modern and utilitarian -- think cool enough for millennial yet inviting enough for fifty-year old empty nesters to dine and drink comfortably," says Arguello. "We're establishing appeal for the broad demographic of the neighborhood itself," he adds.
With the capacity to accommodate 500 people, more than 330 seats -- plus outside bleachers -- will stretch throughout the common areas of Avanti Food & Beverage, which will also lay claim to two bars, one on the main level, and a second bar on the sprawling rooftop patio that gives way to sensational panoramas of the Rocky Mountains and the Denver skyline. Five of the shipping containers are slated for the lower level, while the other three will be built on the rooftop, and diners and imbibers are encouraged to walk freely -- drink in hand -- between both levels. "Grab a drink, walk around with said drink, eat, have a seat and repeat," recommends Arguello.
And speaking of booze, the two bars will pour wines, old-school cocktails and beers, the latter of which will equate to twenty drafts at each bar, some local, some from afar and other labels, promises Arguello, "that no one's heard of" -- obscure beers, he continues, that he "wants to put on the map." And the beers, like the inhabitants of the incubators, will rotate.
The trio of partners have yet to release the names of the eight tenants, but Arguello reveals that one of those containers will be equipped with a wood-burning oven, which makes pizza seem like a solid bet. But don't expect any crossover when it comes to cuisines, says Arguello. "We're looking for every kind of food out there -- but no overlap -- and we want to have a list that's ten feet long of people who want to get involved. We want people with a dream to know that they can do this -- that it's an affordable investment and a great opportunity with a lot of exposure," explains Arguello.
Container renewals are an option once a restaurant has completed its original lease, but the idea is to "get these people in and prove their concept and then get them out so then can open a brick-and-mortar," notes Arguello, adding that "not only are we supporting these concepts as a way to help them get on their feet, but they're supporting us, as well." The "sharable and communal aspect -- strength among peers -- is the wave of the future," he stresses.
And, so, too, are shipping containers, which are becoming an increasingly popular building material for designers, who are re-purposing the containers that once carried imports to America on cargo ships, to create more affordable spaces for aspiring small businesses to establish themselves. In addition, a cluster of incubators -- especially those that have a common denominator -- carries wide appeal for consumers who want a concentrated area that satisfies their interests, all under the confines of one roof. "I've always wanted to do a shipping container project," admits Arguello, and "all of us love food, so this was a perfect breeding ground for what we wanted to do: give people a marketplace to eat and drink in a communal setting, and give restaurants the opportunity to just cook, while we take care of the rest."
The partners of Avanti Food & Beverage just recently submitted their plans to the City of Denver, and if all goes according to schedule, the culinary emporium will open in early 2015.
And when it comes to fruition, the incubators will dish out foodstuffs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to capitalize on the lunch crowd and offer dinner between 5 and 10 p.m. And while additional hours are up to the discretion of each restaurant, all-day service is encouraged," notes Arguello, adding that Avanti will also advocate that the containers open for weekend brunch. Both bars are slated to open at 11 a.m. daily and while they'll stop pouring earlier during the week, the drinks will flow until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. "Avanti weeknight bar hours will fluctuate based on activity, but they'll close at midnight at the earliest," says Arguello, stressing that "Avanti signed the HUNI 'good neighbor agreement' and is working closely with LoHi residents to ensure the establishment is run in accordance to the neighborhood's rules and regulations."
If you're interested in submitting an application, e-mail the Avanti team at email@example.com to set up an interview.
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Here's a peek at the raw space and rooftop, along with a handful of artist renderings showcasing what the final buildout will look like once it's been completed.