The former Pearl Street Grill may still be dark, while Yasu and Toshi Kizaki, the brothers who own Sushi Den and Izakaya Den, retool that space to make way for the relocation of Izakaya Den, but down the block, at 1859 South Pearl Street, Karen Wee Lin Beckman is gutting a small storefront that will be soon become Makan Malaysian Cafe, the name of which means "eat" in Malay.
Beckman, who says she's been cooking since she was twelve, got her start several years ago in Denver at the Cherry Creek Farmers' Market as a small company named "Wee Bites," a play, she says, on "my Chinese name 'Wee Lin' that also reflected the bite-size portions of the food." She changed the name two years ago to Makan to "better reflect the food that we're making," and for the past three years, she's been a mainstay at the Pearl Street Farmers' Market, where she'll be a fixture again this season when the market gets under way on May 20.
And for the past year, she's been on the hunt for a restaurant space, where she could evolve her menu and satisfy the demand of her customers, who wanted access to her food year-round. "My clientele has been steadily growing over the last few years, and a restaurant is something that I've wanted to do for a very long time. Cooking is my passion," she says.
Her restaurant, which she describes as an "intimate, chic and casual Malaysian cafe," is slated to open by the end of the month, and while her foodstuffs at the farmers' markets were limited, her menu at Makan will hustle a full board devoted to kaya toast, curry puffs, popiah, rotis, curries and several noodle and coconut rice dishes, including laksa, mee Siam and nasi lemak, a dish prepared with steamed coconut rice, fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, a boiled egg and sambal.
"Malaysian cuisine is very similar to Thai and Vietnamese," she notes, "but there are a lot of European influences, plus Chinese, Malaysian and Indian, and except for Jaya Asian Grill, which serves some Malaysian food, there aren't any Malaysian restaurants in Denver."
And because Makan will have an open kitchen, diners will have a voyeuristic view of everything she cooks, which includes pastries. "From the very beginning, I wanted this to feel like you're entering someone's living room, and because of the open kitchen, people will be able to see me work -- there will be lots of interaction and conversation with customers -- and we'll have a communal table, too, so people can talk to each other," she says.
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When Makan opens -- the goal is to unlock the doors before Memorial Day weekend -- Beckman plans to serve dinner nightly and lunch Wednesday through Sunday; she'll also turn out a breakfast menu on Sunday.
"I'm very excited about doing this," she tells me. "I live in the neighborhood, have a great clientele from three seasons at the Pearl Street Farmers' Market, and I've met so many people that support what I'm doing."
We have to admit that we're pretty damned ecstatic, too.