When the goals of new business owners align with the needs of a neighborhood, something special can happen. Anthony Lygizos and Luke Hendricks, both Denver restaurant professionals who decided to strike out on their own, wanted to open a place that would give them and their employees a little work-life balance while bringing a fresh, seasonal approach to the notion of a classic delicatessen. At the same time, the Golden Triangle was hurting for well-made sandwiches, good to-go options and a daytime eatery comfortable enough to become a gathering spot for residents, workers and tourists visiting the area's many museums and galleries. The result is Leven Deli, which opens Monday, July 30, at 123 West 12th Avenue.
Hendricks comes most recently from Potager, where he worked his way up to head chef during his six-and-a-half-year tenure. He's taking advantage of some of the connections he made there to source meats and produce for Leven's menu. No deli would be complete without a good pastrami sandwich, so Hendricks has been hard at work over the past year perfecting his technique. Leven's house pastrami is dry-cured for twelve days before being smoked over mesquite and hickory for eight hours. Leven also smokes its own turkey for the No. 18 sandwich, a tribute to one of Lygizos's childhood favorites, Zingerman's Delicatessen in Michigan. The sandwich is a Georgia Reuben, so it's built with turkey, purple coleslaw, Jarlsberg cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread, although a classic Reuben is also available.
Many traditional delis have lengthy menus of various sandwich combinations, but Lygizos said it was important for him and Hendricks to keep their list tight to help balance the cost and quality of everything offered. There are just nine sandwiches, made on one of three breads: house-baked sourdough flatbread, rye from Tribeca Oven, or baguettes from Trompeau Bakery in Englewood. Three salads, available in different sizes or by the pound; a relish tray piled with marinated olives, pickles and veggies; and a "Dip It, Spread It, Smear It" platter with sauces, cheeses, veggies and house crackers round out the lunch offerings. For dessert, there are cookies, brownies, rice pudding and decadent babka "muffins," which eat like a cinnamon roll for chocoholics.
Lygizos explains that staff and customers are equally important to him, so he and Hendricks traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to go through ZingTrain, an extensive customer service and business training program created by Zingerman's. "We firmly believe we're in the people business," Lygizos states, "so our people should be our biggest expenditure."
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As part of that mission, the owners paid careful attention to the layout of the kitchen and restaurant to maximize efficiency and make working in the space easier for a small but dedicated staff. You won't find high-tech order kiosks or a burdensome self-service model, but instead employees who are trained to look out for customer needs and who are compensated based on a "thriving wage" scale, as Lygizos calls it.
Other features of the deli include a bike-up order window where cyclists will be able to order breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. on weekdays, a soon-to-be-added front patio with seating for 25 to 35 guests, and a small bar selection of beer, wine and cocktails.
Leven Deli will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit the deli's website for more details.