Chef Vince Howard is stoked about serving sandwiches to northeast Denver residents. After running Del Rey Deli in Los Angeles for five years, Howard moved to Colorado with his wife for her new job, for better schools and for a great new city. Not content to leave the deli life behind, the chef is opening a new project, Tessa Delicatessen, at 5724 East Colfax Avenue this spring in a space that was previously a furniture store.
"This is a cool area," Howard says of Park Hill and Montclair, the neighborhood on the south side of Colfax, "and I just want to feed my neighbors; they're the ones who will be there for you."
Tessa will be an all-day eatery, with breakfast sandwiches and other options in the morning transitioning into a menu of composed sandwiches, deli salads and customizable orders for lunch and dinner. Howard emphasizes the balance between serving customers quickly and efficiently while still taking the time to make connections and guide guests to the meal they want, noting that modern delis attract a wide range of customers, including those expecting a traditional experience, younger guests who might enjoy happy-hour drinks over antipasto platters, and on-the-go urbanites who need a portable, well-made meal.
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"Brunch and happy hour are the stepchildren," he adds. "But they're both going to be a big part of what we do that will evolve organically. We'll see what the neighborhood likes."
The menu will include house-cooked meats as well as products from local producers, including chef/restaurateur Justin Brunson's River Bear American Meats. The deli case will be stocked with vegetable and fruit salads — standards like macaroni salad and beet salad as well as house creations. "I want to bridge the gap between healthy eating and all the big delicatessen sandwiches and gregariousness," Howard notes.
The chef describes the design for the space, which is now under construction after minor permitting delays, as "functional and clean to let the food speak for itself." While Howard initially targeted April for Tessa's opening, he now thinks late spring is more realistic.
Tessa joins Leven Deli and Rye Society as the newest of Denver's next generation of delis. This stretch of Colfax is better known for international restaurants, with several Ethiopian, Middle Eastern and Colombian spots nearby, but Hank's Texas Barbecue just opened three blocks away, and Chop Shop Urban Eatery and Marczyk Fine Foods have been serving the neighborhood for several years.