I moved to Denver in 1970 — just two years after the Yum Yum Tree opened on South Colorado Boulevard and Cherry Creek North Drive. I ate there a few times. My memory of it is fuzzy. Of course.
But I remember that it was big. Everybody went there. It was, in its own way, a sensation. It was Denver’s first fancy food court.
Today, new versions of food courts — now called food halls — are opening in Denver faster than you can say “farm to table.” We have the Source Hotel + Market Hall, Denver Milk Market, Denver Central Market, Avanti Food & Beverage, Zeppelin Station, Stanley Marketplace and, most recently, Broadway Market. They brand themselves as “artisan food markets,” with pricey gourmet food stalls helmed by celebrated local toques, and seem a world away from the down-to-earth wonders of the Yum Yum Tree.
Eight restaurants called the Yum Yum Tree home: Tommy Wong’s (Chinese), Adam’s Rib (barbecue), Reuben’s (deli), Apple Annie’s (desserts, sweets), Fellini’s (Italian), Hofbräuhaus (German), Pancho’s Patio (Mexican) and Fat Eddie’s (steaks, chops). A hippie tchotchke shop was also shoehorned into the place. You'd get a ticket when you entered, cruise the giant hall picking dishes from this spot and that, then pay as you left. Taken together, the Yum Yum restaurants offered up 302 dishes (take that, Cheesecake Factory), and the dining room seated 600, according to The Lost Restaurants of Denver, by Robert and Kristin Autobee.
The Yum Yum Tree was very family-friendly, with local TV celebrity Blinky serving as spokesclown. “It was fun to be there,” says Lee Goodfriend, co-owner of Racines. “The food wasn’t great, but it had shopping, and everybody got what they wanted.”
“It was a first,” recalls Colorado food chronicler Pat “Gabby Gourmet” Miller. “It wasn’t very pretty and it wasn’t very good. You could probably eat dinner for a buck. But the kids could run around and nobody cared."
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A friend went to the Yum Yum Tree stoned and came home empty-handed. “It was just too much, man,” he told me at the time. “I couldn’t figure out what to eat.”
Former Denver Post columnist Dick Kreck remembers the smell: “The place was okay, the kids liked it and it was cheap. But all that different food, the aroma. Ewww. German, barbecue, Chinese all mixed together.”
After over ten years on South Colorado, the Yum Yum Tree moved to 2802 South Havana Street. It closed for good in 1981. It's gone, but not forgotten — especially by people who ate there and now compare it to the newfangled food halls.
They have better food, better smells. But not a better name.
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