Neighborhoods

Bread & Butter Bodega Is Now Open in RiNo

Meredith Zelenka behind the counter at Bread & Butter
Meredith Zelenka behind the counter at Bread & Butter Teague Bohlen
It’s one of the good things to result from the tumultuous times of the pandemic years: Bread & Butter Bodega is a new neighborhood market in the RiNo district, located on the south side of 26th Street between Lawrence and Arapahoe. The area is officially a Denver food desert, so a place to pick up both staples and treats for home is a welcome idea, especially in a part of town filled with new residents.

But according to founder Meredith Zelenka, the market really started because of how much we all learned to lean on each other in those stay-at-home times. “Some friends and I had a group chat,” Zelenka recalls, “and every so often, someone would text to see if anyone had an onion, some sugar, a roll of toilet paper. No one wanted to leave their house. That’s where the seed was planted.”

Zelenka, who lived in RiNo in 2020 but has since relocated to New Orleans, began talking with people in the neighborhood to see if a small store like the one she had in mind would be something they’d patronize. She did some polling of residents and sent questionnaires to neighborhood associations. What she found was that limited access to quick pickup groceries and sundry items was a “common pain point and source of frustration for the area," she says. "But everyone was waiting for someone else to do it. I was crazy enough to think I should,” she adds, laughing.

Zelenka was between jobs at that point; she’d been doing freelance branding work, but her background, she admits, is “pretty colorful," spanning everything from architecture and home renovations to set design and event planning. At the root of all her career paths, she says, was “seeing a problem” and “finding a solution that keeps the client or customer in mind.”
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A selection of snacks at Bread & Butter.
Teague Bohlen
“It’s all about modern convenience,” Zelenka explains. “We want to make sure we carry all those grocery and pantry staples, home necessities, things like that. But we want to be playful with it, too. We want to have some fun snacks, too. Things you can’t really get anywhere else.”

“The initial neighborhood market concept was great, and is still important to us,“ agrees Ankur Ahuja, Bread & Butter’s operations consultant. “But it’s not a feasible business model to sell someone two tomatoes and an onion. We needed to think bigger. So when I came on board, we focused on the idea of ‘all of your needs, and even more of your wants.’”

Ahuja got involved simply because he was a part of the neighborhood, too. He’s a transplant from New York City, an urban landscape that knows a thing or two about bodegas. He and Zelenka were just wave-hello neighbors until April 2021, when Ahuja found himself on the same flight as Zelenka’s husband, Joe. Ahuja’s background in business (he owned and sold two successful businesses in NYC) jibed well with what Joe described as the challenge of this retail idea in RiNo. By late summer, Ahuja was fully on board with Bread & Butter.

Ahuja says that a big part of the store’s business model is mission-driven brands. “Women-owned, LGBTQ-owned, LatinX-owned brands," he notes. "Products that could not normally afford the shelf fees to be in a Safeway or a Whole Foods but are still phenomenal. We’re working to get the product mix right. We’ll have your Cheez-Its, and we’ll also have your chickpea corn puffs.”
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Bread & Butter will celebrate its grand opening on January 28.
Teague Bohlen
Thanks to the results of the recent ballot initiatives last November, Bread & Butter will also be able to sell wine. “It’s a huge win for us,” Ahuja says. “To be able to offer that really changes the dynamic of the business overall.”

The market is going an extra step, too, in planning to offer ten-minute pickup or within-the-hour delivery. “And it’s not through Uber, not through Grubhub,” notes Ahuja. Instead, it's partnered with a local delivery courier network of cargo bikes. “So we’ll be doing green delivery, where people will be paid a living wage.”

Bread & Butter is currently in soft-opening mode as the store slowly fills its space; an official opening is planned for January 28. Ahuja says the goal is to establish similar bodegas (“without the bodega cat,” he jokes) in other parts of Denver as well. “It’s exciting, businesses like these, opening up in these neighborhoods,” Ahuja concludes. “That’s what’s going to make these neighborhoods vibrant.”

Bread & Butter Bodega is located at 1160 26th Street and is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For more information, visit breadbutterdenver.com.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen

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