It doesn't look like much now, but in a few months Avanti Food & Beverage could be the hottest new restaurant and bar collective in the city. Being created in an old printing building on a hill with views of Coors Field, downtown and the the LoHi neighborhood, Avanti will feature seven shipping container "pods" with kitchens run by new ventures as well as some of Denver's top chefs. So far, five of the seven leases have been signed and a deal with Dogfish Head Brewing from Delaware has been set so that brewery owner Sam Calagione will provide ten of his own beers on tap while curating a list of ten additional taps from Colorado breweries.
Avanti is the brainchild of founders Patrick O'Neill, Brad Arguello and Rob Hahn. O'Neill started in the club business in Vail at the age of 23 before moving to Denver and opening Choppers Custom Salads. Arguello grew up in the restaurant business as the son of the owner of Mataam Fez; he was an original founder of Uber Sausage (he sold his stake in 2013). Rob Hahn is a real estate investor and longtime Lower Highland resident who put together the deal to purchase the Avanti Printing and Graphics building with a neighborhood investment group after learning that the building was in danger of being razed. Sam Calagione, a friend of Hahn's since the two met at a Vail wedding in 1997, became involved after Hahn contacted him and gave him the details of his new concept. In addition to ground-floor and roof-top bars with taps from Dogfish Head, Avanti will have five separate kitchens on the main level built into repurposed shipping containers and two more on the second level, which will include indoor and outdoor seating as well as bleacher seats facing Coors Field, where customers can hang out with food and drinks and hear the roar of the crowd from the ballpark.
The entire project falls somewhere between an upscale food court (with booze and an industrial vibe) and a permanent food-truck corral. Vendors will include established chefs looking to test a more casual version of their cooking, food truck and cart operators looking to jump into the brick-and-mortar world but hesitant to invest in a full build-out of their own, and other cooks and chefs new to the business who may have great ideas but lack the capital to strike out on their own.
The owners of Avanti see the space as a collective and testing ground where food-service professionals can share ideas and launch their brands with relatively low risk. Leases will be staggered so that new concepts can be added to the mix as existing businesses gain the confidence and customer base to establish their own restaurants.
Customers will order from counters at each of the seven pods; there will be seating and bars in the common areas and indoor/outdoor rooftop dining areas. Here are the five food-station deals signed so far:
Queiro Arepas Igor and Beckie Panawicz have experienced massive popularity selling Venezuelan arepas from their food truck over the past few years. Avanti will give them a chance to take their mobile business to the next level.
Poco Torteria Kevin Morrison, one of the founders of the Spicy Pickle and owner of two Pinche Taqueria locations in Denver, will be offering his take on tortas, Mexican sandwiches with roots in the street food of Mexico City.
Brava David Bravdica started out with a mobile wood-fired pizza oven that's been mostly stationary on the 16th Street Mall under the Daniels and Fisher clocktower since 2010. His spot in Avanti will include wood-fired small plates as well pizza.
Bixo Chef Marco Gonzales is new to the Denver scene, but has years of experience cooking in Lyon, France and Barcelona, Spain. Bixo, on the top floor of Avanti, will offer traditional Mediterranean dishes with Mexican influences.
Although Avanti's parking lot is small, Hahn doesn't consider that a problem. The owners gave up a portion of their property to make room for the area's largest B-Cycle station. Hahn, who doesn't own a car, sees multiple transportation options for Denverites headed to LoHi and Avanti, with a light rail station within walking distance, a pedestrian bridge over I-25, a bus stop right outside the building and multiple taxi services. He says Lower Highland is a bike- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in line with other major cities that rely less on automobiles for transportation.
Calagione's involvement in the beer aspect of Avanti will be more than simply providing a range of Dogfish Head brews. He's already working on a collaboration between nearby Prost Brewing and is using his connections with the Great American Beer Festival and the Colorado-based Brewers Association to seek out the state's best beers. "We'd like to look at some of the smaller brewers that don't get recognition," he says. "Denver beer culture appreciates quality regardless of the scale."
Arguello says that the original plan was to have Avanti up and running in time for baseball season, but now it looks like it will be open later in the spring. Once it is, the seven food vendors will offer lunch and dinner daily.
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