Given their brisk expansion and unstoppable rise, it's no surprise that the team members behind Bar Dough, Highland and Sloan's Lake Tap and Burger and Señor Bear have been contemplating a fast-casual spin-off of some sort for some time." Juan [Padro] is always pushing us in a hundred different directions," says Blake Edmunds, chef and co-owner at Señor Bear. "He sent us an article at one point about a trend in restaurants identifying a section of their business and simplifying into a fast-causal concept." But the team, which includes Katie O'Shea Padro and Max MacKissock, didn't seriously begin laying the groundwork for such a concept until Zeppelin Development's director of hospitality development, Justin Anderso, approached them and asked if they wanted to bring their pollo bronco to Zeppelin Station, a food hall going in at 3501 Wazee Street, near the 38th and Blake Street light-rail station.
The pollo bronco has been a staple on the Señor Bear menu since the LoHi restaurant opened; the supple, char-streaked grilled chicken, served with slaw and tortillas, draws inspiration from a famous version of the dish that MacKissock and Edmunds ate in the Mexican town of Tulum. The team agreed that it'd make a good focal point for a fast-casual outlet, and so they built a street food, quick-service concept anchored on the poultry, which you'll be able to order by the quarter-bird (a single portion), half-bird or whole bird. Mister Oso, a language inversion of Señor Bear, will feature a custom-built charcoal grill, essential for imparting the chicken's smoky flavor.
A pair of additional sections fills out the rest of the menu. "Sanguiches" is the heading for a loosely interpreted list that includes "handheld stuff between bread," says Edmunds. You'll find a tempura-fried avocado torta, a quesadilla crunch built with a flour tortilla wrapped around a tostada, and tacos al pastor, which will be carved to order from a rotating spit. And then there are the anticuchos, or skewered foods, which Edmunds says will be a rotating lineup of fish and meat, including Pardos pollo, a Peruvian chicken, and thinly sliced short ribs. Mister Oso will also offer sides like queso and guacamole, desserts like churros and soft-serve ice cream, and a yet-to-be-determined roster of drinks, including some sort of frozen offering.
Mister Oso joins a handful of already announced tenants, including Au Feu, a Montreal-style smoked-meats purveyor out of Chicago; Denver Vietnamese stalwart Vinh Xuong Bakery and its coffee spin-off, Dandy Lion; Chicago-originated Aloha Poke Co.; and Boulder-based Fior Gelato. A few more tenants have not yet been revealed.
Is this the beginning of a fast-casual empire? "That's not necessarily our goal," says MacKissock. "We have enough other stuff going on," including a forthcoming New Orleans Bar Dough sibling called Sophia, and another Denver project.
But Edmunds acknowledges that if Mister Oso catches on, there's no stopping the group from rolling out more locations. "If it catches fire, we’d love to expand," he says. "We want it to be successful; this is our first trial run into the casual market. We obviously have a lot to learn."
Moreover, he adds, the team is not interested in sacrificing its brand to roll out hundreds of restaurants: "We always want to do cool projects, and we don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of what we do," says Edmunds. "So it has to be on that level."
Zeppelin Station is scheduled to open in late 2017 with a full slate of food-service vendors rounding out the food hall.
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