Former Greenwich Chef Previews New Denver Concept Monarch | Westword

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One of Denver's Best Chefs Will Preview New Concept at a December 12 Pop-Up

Justin Freeman recently left the Greenwich in RiNo and is working toward opening his own eatery called Monarch with business partner Daniel Matthews.
Justin Freeman is in the process of developing his own restaurant.
Justin Freeman is in the process of developing his own restaurant. Shawn Campbell
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"What we bonded off of is, how do we make a place feel like home?" says Justin Freeman, who moved to Denver from New York City in 2021 and was our 2022 Best of Denver pick for Best Chef New to Denver, thanks to the thoughtful, flavorful take on seasonal veggies, crowd-pleasing mains and sourdough-crust pizzas he served as the opening chef at  the Greenwich.

Earlier this year, Freeman left the Greenwich; he's currently working at Somebody People as he pursues his dream of opening his own restaurant.

That dream is starting to take shape, though intentionally slowly. Freeman and his new business partner, Daniel Matthews, will share the first public taste of Monarch at a December 12 pop-up at Brasserie Brixton with seatings at 5:30 and 8 p.m for a five-course tasting menu at $65 per person, with à la carte drinks from the Brixton team. Reservations can be booked on Brasserie Brixton's OpenTable page.
click to enlarge a man in a black t shirt and black beanie
Daniel Matthews (left) is the owner of Dark Rose Club.
Shawn Campbell
Matthews worked in the hotel industry for years and had a particular passion for the food and beverage side of operations. After moving to Denver for a job with Sage Hospitality, he "ended up getting sober, so I got out of that industry," he says, opting instead to go to barber school.

For the past four years, he's been the co-owner of Dark Rose Club barber shop on South Gaylord Street, and he also owns a LoHi boutique called Apropos, but "I've always wanted to get back into food and beverage," he notes. He met Freeman through a client and started cutting his hair. "We hit it off," he recalls. "We bonded over food and hospitality. ... I feel like we already have this vision together, that we can see what it feels like, tastes like, without even really having to describe it to each other."

In simple terms, Freeman describes his vision for Monarch as "a New American eatery." But really, it's about trying to convey the feeling of inviting someone into your home for a meal. "One of the most lasting things I can remember is roasted chicken at home and coming home and being like, 'Oh, my God, I can't wait to eat.' Or you and your friends are coming over, and you're having a pizza party. ... Food is a major focus, but how do you really create feelings and connect with people is what we're really trying to make."

The idea of returning home also led to the name, which is inspired by the "multi-generational memories" of monarch butterflies, says Freeman, who was also drawn by the fact that they "spread and pollinate so many different crops throughout the United States and Mexico."

Plus, Matthews adds, "I already have a butterfly tattoo."
click to enlarge someone pulling a pizza out of an oven
Justin Freeman cooking in the portable pizza oven that Monarch will use for pop-ups as it looks for a permanent space.
Shawn Campbell
As at the Greenwich, pizza will play a main role in Monarch's lineup, but so will local produce. "The longer I live here and the more I get to meet people, there are so many cool and great things out here that we all can embrace," Freeman says. At the Brasserie Brixton pop-up, they will be showcased in dishes like a pizza topped with escarole from Esoterra Culinary Garden and crispy guanciale.

The roster will also include half of a roasted chicken with braised endive and wilted kale. "I really do miss the spots in New York where I would be able to get Peruvian roasted chickens, and you get this garlicky, slightly vinegary, lemony sauce with some kind of herbs, and crispy chicken skin that was very-so-salty. So I'm trying to re-create some of that," Freeman says.

"We're not trying to reinvent anything or do anything crazy different," Matthews notes. "We just want to showcase things that mesh well together in a place where you could come a couple of times a week if you wanted to."

Freeman and Matthews are still searching for the perfect place to open Monarch. They're looking for a space that will evoke a communal feel, complete with an open kitchen. "We want something small and intimate," Matthews says. "Something where when you walk in, you feel like you're a part of it from the moment you walk in." But they're not in a rush.

"We want that perfect space, and we're going to be picky about it," Matthews adds. "We don't want to just open something just to open."

"Also, while we're trying to better define what we are as a restaurant, or as a brand, or even as partners, trying to find the right space and the right neighborhood is really important," Freeman points out. "With doing the pop-ups, it will really help us be able to see what other people are doing and help develop a community. ... I would like to say we'll have something by next year, but let's see where the process goes. Let's let it flow through."

To learn more about Monarch, including future pop-ups, follow it on Instagram @monarchdenver.
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