The changeover from Tom's to Birdcall is striking; the timeworn Spanish-style exterior of the building has been stripped away and replaced by a sharp-edged facade clad in horizontal wood slats, dark-gray paint and lots of glass. A veranda wraps around much of the dining room, adding plenty of outdoor seating beneath bright-white pergolas.
In nearly every way, the differences between Birdcall and Tom's are nearly polar. Tom's was a cash-only joint that served lunch on weekdays only. Birdcall uses a modern point-of-sale system that's all but cash-free and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Tom's was run by Steve Jankousky and Tom Unterwagner, who could usually be found behind the counter serving their brand of Southern comfort food. Birdcall seems to be what would happen if Skynet were to open a fast-food restaurant. Customers queue up at touch-screen kiosks to order food and then watch a wall-mounted monitor for their name and the anticipated food arrival time. The computerized system remembers your previous orders as well as your name, making subsequent visits quicker and more personalized. Completed orders are slotted into a honeycomb rack at the front counter with a number that corresponds to each customer's name. Of course, you can talk to Birdcall staff, who will circulate near the kiosks and in the dining room to help answer questions. And if you insist on paying with cash, you can still key in your own order before stepping up to the counter to fork over your bills and coins.
Tom's was a little cluttered and like Grandma's kitchen; one of the many signs on the walls admonished customers to "hang up your cell phone and order," and even threatened a $10 fee for cell-phone usage. Birdcall asks for your phone number so you can receive an electronic receipt and a text when your order is ready (just in case your eyes aren't glued to the screen above the condiment station).
But the folks behind Birdcall — Jean-Phillipe Failyau and Peter Newlin — know good food, as evidenced by the popularity of Park Burger and Failyau's other enterprise, Homegrown Tap & Dough. If there's one thing the new sandwich shop has in common with Tom's, it's fried chicken. The main idea behind the somewhat sterile POS system is to save money on labor, thus keeping costs down for customers. The Original, with an Aspen Bakery bun, a crunchy slab of white-meat chicken and a trio of pickle chips, rings in at $5.75 and comes with a choice of five sauces. Add-ons like bacon or blue-cheese coleslaw will bring the price up a little, but an order of fries is only $1.95, and chicken-strip packages start at $4 for three.
Royal Rooster," Newlin explains of Birdcall's quality. The overall ambience of the place definitely leans toward fast food, with bright-yellow furnishings, a crisp tile design that evokes chicken wire, and uniformed employees sporting the Birdcall logo on trucker-style caps.
"We wanted to try a fast-casual concept," Failyau recently told Westword in a Chef & Tell interview. "We’re facing a rising cost of wages and difficulty with hiring in this market. So we wanted to have something a little smaller, where you order at the counter. Peter put a ton of thought into the ordering system, which is custom-made for us from scratch."
Birdcall appears built for easy replication; in fact, a second outpost is already in the works at 1535 East Evans Avenue, in a former Twister's burrito shop near the University of Denver.
Change is inevitable, even in Five Points, one of Denver's most historically distinct neighborhoods, where African-American businesses, soul food and jazz were the mortar that held the community together for decades. Good food, though, is universal, even if it comes in a shiny new package. Birdcall joins a growing number of young businesses, from Rosenberg's Bagels & Deli to Goed Zuur (a sour-beer specialist) to The Rolling Pin Bakeshop, now calling the neighborhood home and serving a new influx of Five Points residents.