CoraFaye's Home Cook'n & Soul Food has been one of Denver's top destinations for Southern and soul food for the past fifteen years, but owner Priscilla Smith's fried chicken, catfish, pork chops and hearty side dishes have been absent since the beginning of the pandemic. In March 2020, Smith closed her restaurant at 16251 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, and the place has remained shuttered ever since.
But Smith hasn't been idle over the past year; instead, she moved CoraFaye's to a new, more visible location at 15395 East Colfax Avenue, where she reopened in mid-March. The previous space was on the second floor of a secluded strip mall and was tricky to find, but the new CoraFaye's has its own building — a former Village Inn — with easy access and parking at the corner of Colfax and Chambers Road, so the sign and the restaurant are both visible to passersby on two major Aurora thoroughfares.
Smith says the main reason for the move was that her five-year lease ended at the original location last spring, just as the pandemic was hitting, and she wanted to move to a new space with more visibility to help attract new customers while giving her loyal fan base a better experience. While the dining room isn't much bigger at the new CoraFaye's, the owner says the kitchen is significantly larger, so she's looking forward to expanding the menu once she's fully staffed and can seat at 100-percent capacity.
Staffing has been the biggest challenge to reopening, Smith says: "It was hard before COVID, but now it's even harder to find people to work here."
The popularity of CoraFaye's turned out to be a double-edged sword when Smith reopened in the new location on March 19. She didn't advertise the opening because she had only a small staff and didn't want them to be overwhelmed. But word got out and the crowds showed up anyway. "My goodness, we got slammed," Smith recalls. "We had waits of three or four hours for a table."
Because of that, Smith realized she couldn't offer the full range of dishes, instead focusing on fried chicken, fish, pork chops and a little barbecue, along with a small selection of sandwiches and "Side Kicks" — okra, mac and cheese, collard greens, mashed potatoes and gravy and other Southern specialties — depending on what she can cook up on any given day. "We whittled it down to a one-page menu," she explains. "It's almost like starting a new company."
So the soul food egg rolls are absent for now, but the menu's still big enough to offer variety — including a rotating selection of Smith's famous cakes for dessert. Smith says she'll be running the smaller "COVID menu" until things return to normal.
This isn't the first time Smith has moved CoraFaye's. The original incarnation served soul food at 2861 Colorado Boulevard for a decade before the space was converted into a dispensary (it's currently vacant) in 2016 and Smith reopened in Aurora. Guy Fieri even dropped in on the original CoraFaye's to film an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. "There are people who have followed us to all three locations," Smith says.
And that's no surprise, considering the lure of fried chicken and coconut cream-cheese cake.
The new CoraFaye's is open from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sundays, with the kitchen closing half an hour before the doors close each day. Visit the restaurant's new website for in-house and takeout menus, and call 303-333-5551 to order to go.
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