Twenty years ago, Dan Landes started a small restaurant revolution when he opened WaterCourse Foods, then City, O' City, which became not only a popular vegetarian restaurant, but a true community hub in Capitol Hill. But now the Denver native has sold both eateries, as well as closed an unsuccessful attempt to reboot the Campus Lounge, and is moving with his family to Mexico, where they've operated a hostel since 2009.
Landes wrote a goodbye to Denver last week and will be at Pablo's Coffee at 630 East Sixth Avenue from 9 to 11 a.m. on Monday, May 14, to talk about Denver old and new. We'll be there early to take your questions for a Facebook Live with Landes, but many readers aren't waiting to share their thoughts.
I find myself growing more and more nostalgic about the Denver of my youth. When I try to describe it to my friends who have only lived here a few years, I'm lost for words because surely there's no way I could describe it that would make them see why I love my hometown so much, mainly for what it used to be.
I had the privilege of growing up in Denver. And by "in," I mean 18th and Wazee before Coors Field had a name or was even a hole in the ground, 16th and Larimer when the northwest view didn't contain an Elitch's. Now that Denver is broken up into "new" and "old," Dan represents the best of what Denver was. I had the privilege to witness that. He leaves others a great "foundation" in what he created. But I worry that the cornerstone was actually the heart behind it. And that is leaving. Old Denver is going to miss him. I am going to miss him.
I think this piece is coming from a good place, but I gotta point out that the guy who says, "Don’t go to a resort that was built to cater to your specific needs, but to where real people live," is moving to run his vegetarian hostel in Mexico.
Replies Brenda Sue:
Only if he is moving 100,000 white people there to change the whole city and force people to leave that can't afford it anymore, then yeah that would suck.
I miss Denver, too. I went to Edison Elementary like my grandpa and North High like my grandma. People do roll their eyes when you talk about the old days here: Muddy's, Rainbow Music Hall and FMTV. To me, Denver was the biggest small town in a way. I grew up on the Northside, but I don't even go over there anymore; the people over there are sterile, boring elitists who ruined a fantastic neighborhood. But I can't afford Denver much longer anyway. I'm in IT and make good money but it's not enough these days, and I don't feel home anymore either. I sit on I-25 for way too long, it's way too crowded for me and so many mean people are coming here. I don't know why everyone is in such a bad mood all the time either, crabby people are everywhere now. Well, at least we have our memories.
But then there's this from Michael:
The never-ending epic rant by Dan Landes is boring. His Campus Lounge remodel didn’t work out for him. He can’t stop complaining about the wonders of the past. Yes, he captured a vegetarian/vegan market in Denver before some transplant beat him to it. Good for him. However, vegan and vegetarian food will not win the average Denverite over; it is a niche market that became oversaturated. The locals of Denver miss the old taco shops and tamale houses, they will not miss the overpriced bland menu at the new Campus Lounge. Landes’s whole menu concept for the Campus Lounge was already created at Asbury Provisions 1.7 miles south; the difference was Asbury Provisions had sports on its two televisions.
Dan is right about the risk-averse restaurants, but the rebooted Campus Lounge was not a unique concept. There are hundreds of modern-yuppie restaurants with no televisions all around Denver. As someone who frequented the Campus Lounge off and on since I was eighteen, it is easy to point out why the old Campus Lounge lasted so long. It was the perfect place to get away and watch a game. Moreover, the food was sub-par at both the old and new Campus Lounge. As a person who has traveled all over. I am not shutting my sports games off. I wish Dan luck in Oaxaca. Oaxaca has fantastic food. Maybe he can learn some new culinary techniques there and bring them back to Denver. Adios, Dan.
Keep reading for more on Landes.
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"Dan Landes on WaterCourse Foods Sale and Denver's Cultural Community"
After growing up in Denver and working in numerous kitchens, including the second incarnation of Muddy's coffeehouse and City Spirit, "by 1998 it didn’t take a genius to identify that the demand for vegetarian food was greater than the supply," Landes writes in his goodbye essay. So he took over a small spot in Capitol Hill that had previously held a Chinese restaurant, and opened WaterCourse.
"In ’98, it cost $30,000 to open WaterCourse. No permits, no problem," he continues. "Today, $30,000 will get you a crop-dusting from a passing developer and a scale drawing of what you can’t afford. Even if you add another zero, you’re still far short of what it takes to open a restaurant in this town. Herein lies the problem of luxury Denver: It’s too risky to open interesting concepts."
Is new Denver a lot less interesting than it used to be? What do you miss about old Denver? Post a comment or email your thoughts to email@example.com, and don't forget to watch our Facebook Live with Dan Landes on May 14. Or speak with him yourself at Pablo's.