Food News

New Food Halls Bring Tourism and Opportunity to Small Mountain Towns

The Bluebird Market has been in the works for years, but is almost finished.
The Bluebird Market has been in the works for years, but is almost finished. Wightman Media
There's another food trend making its way from Denver to the unlikeliest rural and mountainous parts of Colorado: food halls. The trendy, cafeteria-style hubs for small restaurants, bars and retail shops have made quite a footprint in Denver. The city's first food hall, The Source, opened eight years ago in RiNo, and since then, food halls have been popping up all over, from Denver Central Market on Larimer Street and the newly opened Grange Hall in Greenwood Village to Tributary Food Hall in Golden.

It might seem strange to open a food hall — which are typically associated with young working professionals enjoying happy hour — in a remote mountain town. And yet two different food halls are doing just that. The first, which held its grand opening September 11 after several soft openings, is The Warehouse in Craig, from Steamboat Springs-based investment firm Four Points Funding, which focuses on "opportunity zones" in Colorado to benefit the community. The other, which will open in late October, is Bluebird Market in Silverthorne, as part of a larger vision for the town called Fourth Street Crossing, by real estate development company Milender White.

The Warehouse currently features a burger joint, coffee shop, bar and deli, as well as a marketplace that sells meat and produce sourced in the area.

Bluebird Market will have a variety of places to eat, drink and shop. Three are new-to-market concepts that include a coffee shop and an ice cream shop; two are local vendors (Baja Chimayo and Crepes a la Cart); and several others are Denver-based eateries including Arvada's The Mighty Burger and Tilford's Wood-Fired Pizza from Edgewater Public Market. One of Bluebird Market's most interesting eccentricities is the fact that the building encapsulates the Old Dillon Inn, a historic bar that dates back to the 1890s and briefly served as a post office during Prohibition. The space comes complete with bullet holes in the walls, and Milender White is searching for a vendor to run it as a speakeasy.

Bluebird Market will also contain a venue for all sorts of community events. According to Scott Vollmer, director of property operations for Milender White, the venue will host live music and hold First Fridays there when the weather gets cold, along with everything from yoga classes to farmers' markets and movie nights. The Warehouse also plans to host community events such as occasional fundraisers and a fall festival.

The key to success for these businesses, according to their directors, centers on a few factors. First, although the food halls will be driven in part by tourism, they will cater primarily to the community's needs in order to thrive.

"We want to keep the integrity of the community and what they want and what they need," says Emma Rush, director of outdoor hospitality at Four Points Funding, and one of the people who oversees the Warehouse. "We're not going to sell like, kale goat cheese salad bao buns, you know, whatever. We're keeping it simple. And I think that as the concept gains some trust and commitment, we can explore those sorts of options, but we want it to be approachable, and we're excited to be a space that folks can host holiday parties at, birthday parties and weddings at, and just kind of be the spot for all things Craig."
click to enlarge Fresh produce from nearby farms is sold at the market at the Warehouse. - AMANDA MONTGOMERY
Fresh produce from nearby farms is sold at the market at the Warehouse.
Amanda Montgomery
When the Warehouse opened, Rush says, she saw a wide variety of patrons come in: locals picking up a burger and a beer, retirees people-watching, families and teenagers.

"The coolest part was there actually was a group of twenty kids from the local high school that were coming in for their homecoming dinner. So we set up their own little spot up toward the market, and they wiped us out of ice cream," Rush says with a laugh. "They just had a great time. And I think they were just really excited to be able to go celebrate their homecoming dinner in a new kind of exciting place where it's pretty photo-op worthy and just kind of up their alley. But it was definitely a more diverse crowd than I've seen in any other food hall I've been in, and I've been in a lot."

Spaces like the Source, which caters to white-collar crowds, have a reputation for offering expensive options (see: modern Israeli restaurant Safta). Vollmer wants to ensure that, like the Warehouse, Bluebird Market will stand as an accessible hub for the locals. "Dillon and Silverthorne have a fair share of restaurant offerings, but they're all just quick-service franchises," he says. "We want it to be approachable. And so we're requiring food vendors to keep entrees below $20. We want to have $10 items on the menus. ... I think that's a really important part of our vision — making this a fun place to go and hang out, but also, it's an affordable night out. It's got something for everyone."

Food halls have been viewed as valuable business opportunities for new restaurants and retail stores because of the lower rent and startup costs. In this sense, they can serve as incubators for businesses.

"At the end of the day, my goal, and our goal, is to start seeing some of these vendors come in, kill it, figure out their concept, really dial it in, and then move into a larger space and make room for the next potential restaurateur," Rush explains. "We want to partner with the local community college for business students to be able to test out their concepts. We're working with the local high school; they're going to staff our coffee shop."

The Warehouse has six-month leases for its businesses, which allows new business owners to get their feet wet and try out their concepts without having to take a huge leap of faith and risk losing everything. Bluebird Market has slightly longer leases, though still relatively short in the commercial world — ranging from two to five years.

Like Rush at the Warehouse, Vollmer sees Bluebird Market as a new source for opportunity and employment for the local workforce in the town. "Silverthorne is one of the highest year-round, full-time residencies in Summit County," he explains. "And you have a local community that is growing, and it needs to diversify its offering and its income without losing its identity."

The Warehouse is located at 1589 West Victory Way in Craig. For more information, visit warehousefoodhall.com. Bluebird Market will open in late October at 325 Blue River Parkway in Silverthorne. Visit bluebirdmarket.co for more information.
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Gabrielle Bye, a former editorial fellow at Westword, writes about news, politics and food. In her spare time, she loves to enjoy nature and eat locally.
Contact: Gabrielle Bye