Cafe Society

Mark Berzins Dishes on the Inspiration for Venezuelan Arepas at Will Call

Will Call, the latest bar and restaurant from the Little Pub Company, opened yesterday in the Industry development on Brighton Boulevard, featuring a list of Venezuelan-style arepas as the main menu attraction. Little Pub Company head Mark Berzins says the concept was the result of several different factors: the need to provide high-volume lunch service to employees of the businesses inside the 120,000 square-foot office center, the desire to provide something unique to a young and artistic RiNo neighborhood, and a little Venezuelan inspiration from a vacation in Connecticut, of all places.

See also: Will Call Opens Today in the Industry Building in River North

"Will Call is different from other Little Pub locations," says Berzins, primarily because most of his other bars are located in neighborhoods without significant lunch business. The idea for arepas came while Berzins was visiting family in Connecticut and they took him to Valencia Lunchera, an arepas joint that's been featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Biting into an arepa was an ah-ha moment for Berzins, who realized that the gluten-free, sandwich-like Venezuelan treats would be perfect for his new bar. "It's simple, it's hearty -- you can stuff almost anything into it," he says of the corn-flour arepa shell.

Soon he was back in Denver, challenging company chef Angelo Robledo to master the techniques needed to produces arepas for a high-volume kitchen. "I said, 'Here's your chance -- knock yourself out.'" The resulting arepas hew close to tradition, with shredded pork, chicken and steak as the main protein options -- chorizo, eggs and chicken chicharrones are also available -- with a standard filling of black bean paste and a variety of Latin American cheeses.

In addition to a unique menu, the interior design of Will Call sets it apart from the more traditional Irish pubs and neighborhood sports bars that the Little Pub Company also runs. Berzins' father, Vilis, who is a restaurant designer by trade, created most of the decor for the modern urban bar. Many of the surfaces and room dividers are covered in waffle-patterned panels that appear to be glazed ceramic. They're actually plaster casts from rubber molds made specifically for Will Call, as are pieces above many of the booths that look like reclaimed vintage wood panels. Faux finishes provide the illusion of wood grain, aged paint and kiln-glazed ceramic, giving the bar and dining room added character and warmth.

"We like each place to stand on its own as a neighborhood joint," states Berzins, noting that if he had his way, nobody would ever know about Little Pub Company itself.

Will Call is still in soft-opening mode, but plans a grand opening in the next week or so, once the staff has had a chance to iron out any kinks. Berzins is already looking ahead to his next project, a bar in Old Town Arvada located where Bella Bistro closed earlier this year. While a name and opening date haven't been chosen, he says he has a fondness for the style and atmosphere of the Spot, his original bar and grill that opened in 1994 at the corner of Pennsylvania Street and Bayaud Avenue.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation

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