First there was Au Feu, a Montreal smoked-meat shop opening at Zeppelin Station's upcoming food hall. But now owner Jared Leonard is bringing two more of his Chicago-based restaurants to Denver. The reason, he says, is because his family fell in love with Colorado.
"I was supposed to open Au Feu and then go back to Chicago," says Leonard, the founder of Stone Soup Collective, which runs a quickly growing list of restaurant concepts. "I was going to be here six months, so I brought my wife and kids. They loved it so much, and we decided this quality of life is so much better for us."
As Leonard and his family settle into their new Evergreen home, he is working on getting his Colorado location of BBQ Supply Co. — a barbecue restaurant with two Chicago locations — ready. It's located in a 4,000-square-foot production facility near the Evans light-rail station (West Evans Avenue and Delaware Street), and when it opens, around early April, the restaurateur will start by hosting dinner parties. The idea, he says, comes from something he did in Chicago called Pit to Plate, which features full-on barbecue spreads done in a communal setting.
"In Chicago, we have a two- to three-hour dinner party, and it brings me back to why I started cooking barbecue in the first place," he says as he tinkers in the future BBQ Supply Co. space. "I enjoy company, cooking questions and seeing and smelling the smoker. So we replicated that here in Denver."
The other concept coming to the city is The Budlong Hot Chicken, Leonard's Nashville hot-chicken joint named after the Budlong Woods neighborhood in Chicago. Unlike the Chicago locations, the Denver Budlong will start with a food truck until the right space can be found. Luckily, guests will be able to get the same sort of fare found in the Windy City, which includes hot-chicken sandwiches, tenders and hot fried-chicken platters, as well as a hearty salad, collard greens, biscuits and macaroni and cheese.
"For me, hot chicken starts with really good fried chicken, and we have spent over a year doing chicken labs, traveling around the South and eating there," says Leonard, who created his recipe from a mesh of old church cookbooks, modern tomes and word of mouth. "What we are known for is our crust; it's super-crispy. To get that texture and the flavor, I dry-brine, then wet-slurry, and then do a dry dredge."
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While the restaurants have yet to fully come to fruition, Leonard expects Au Feu to open in the next week or so, followed by the hot-chicken truck and then the barbecue dinners. And if the Stone Soup Collective proves as popular here as it does in Chicago, you can bet this is just the beginning.
"I love the food we serve," says Leonard. "I didn't realize how much we would miss it. I was spoiled in Chicago: No matter where I was, there was a restaurant location nearby, and I got to eat my food all day."
His goal, it would seem, is to make sure the same can happen in the Mile High City, where he plans to stay.