"We're run by aliens that took a fifteen-minute course of humans and kind of made some assumptions," Aaron VandenBroeke, HELLOFOOD's food and beverage manager, says only half-jokingly. However, in the grand scheme of Convergence Station's 90,000 square feet and more than seventy quantum-travel-themed immersive installations, HELLOFOOD serves an important role.
"It was supposed to be like a palate cleanser. ... This is supposed to be the part of the exhibit-slash-narrative that isn't screaming at you," VandenBroeke adds. While the interior design is toned down compared to the nearby art installations, the food and drink share the same cosmic feel.
Through the process of curation, HELLOFOOD has managed to build enduring partnerships with many of the vendors that have proved mutually beneficial to its network of creative innovators in the local food and drink scene.
"I don't think that Meow Wolf will be the only inclusive, transparent place for people to work. I think there are many. I just think that for people who want to move up in the industry, it could be tough. Some operate in very much in a good old boys' club still, and it's hard to break through that," VandenBroeke notes. "The magic that Meow Wolf creates in the art industry and the immersion category, it very much also touches the food and beverage area. ... If there's an art, it's through the food. If there's an immersion, it's through the food. I just feel the story of Meow Wolf affecting the community that they're in is very much alive here," he concludes, gesturing to HELLOFOOD's walls.
Here are some of the HELLOFOOD vendors that are shining brightly in the Meow Wolf multiverse:
Alejandro Flores-Muñoz, who sells three flavors of his aguas frescas at HELLOFOOD, opened a brick-and-mortar location called Combi Cafe at 8012 West Long Drive in Littleton this February. HELLOFOOD provided, "not only consistent income selling my aguas frescas, but I was also able to model my cafe structure in a similar fashion," Flores-Muñoz says.
Flores-Muñoz also tries to hire minority and LGBTQ-owned and local vendors for his own cafe now. Business structures like Meow Wolf and the new Combi Cafe ensure that marginalized businesses are being highlighted, helping to build generational wealth among those communities, he adds.
At Combi, which he calls a "contemporary Mexican cafe," Flores-Muñoz gives classic Mexican flavors a new twist with items like horchata lattes and concha bread French toast alongside tamales, breakfast burritos and — of course — tacos. "Being Mexican, I'm surrounded by these flavors all the time, and being able to experiment and incorporate them is very cool."
This nonprofit cafe, which provides training and internships for at-risk and other youth, supplies a number of grab-and-go items at HELLOFOOD. Founded by the Denver Housing Authority (DHA), it's also got expansion plans. "Through our partnerships with Meow Wolf and other vendors, we've outgrown our space," says Lori Laurita, operations manager for social enterprises within DHA.
The new Osage Cafe will be just a half block from the current one at 1035 Osage Street and will open in late spring or early summer. The current location will transform into Osage Cafe Kitchen, a training ground for the youth going through Osage's internships. "That's where all of our learning will happen, and the restaurant will be our bread and butter. ... We work with individuals in all walks of life, and we're here to be taught as well," Laurita says.
As part of Osage's training, students make the grab-and-go items sold at HELLOFOOD, prepare items for other vendors, and work in front-of-house or wholesale roles. The team behind Osage also opened Decatur Fresh Market last year, providing affordable and culturally relevant grocery items to the Sun Valley neighborhood that Meow Wolf calls home.
HELLOFOOD employees Josh Porter and JR Mulroney partnered with Raquelita's Tortillas to create a series of brightly colored, distinctly flavored chips. The chips are available at HELLOFOOD, and the pair also plans to distribute the product through Shamrock Foods in the near future. "We're trying to nail down a par of what the demand will be," Porter says.
Customers should be warned, though: The chips — chili lime, salt, jalapeño ranch and barbecue — might not seem as they appear. "The colors don't necessarily match the flavor," Porter explains. "Kind of like that green ketchup in the ’90s. It's more natural, but still had that angle. ... It'll catch eyes, but is good for you."
Like Meow Wolf and HELLOFOOD, Motherchip will follow the B Corporation philosophy; Raquelita's is entirely wind-powered, and Porter and Mulroney are testing out different recyclable and compostable packaging options. "We want to have this be healthy enough. The using of Colorado farmers is amazing for us," Mulroney notes.
For the two partners, it's all about being able to "express ourselves through the untapped medium of corn chips. ... The stars have aligned on more than a few occasions through this process," Porter jokes. Motherchips are now being served with several items at HELLOFOOD, including sandwiches from Osage Cafe.
The brainchild of Jessica La Forge, God Save the Cream delivers playful craft ice cream flavors to clients such as HELLOFOOD, Brown Bear at the Denver Zoo, Blake Street Tavern and more. One of La Forge's concoctions, dubbed Unicorn Poop, was developed specifically for HELLOFOOD and is described as "cotton-candy-flavored party poo."
"Aaron, HELLOFOOD and Meow Wolf are by far the most creative and supportive collaborators we've had the luxury to work with," says LaForge. "They encourage me to bring weird, exciting flavors to them."
In one collaboration, HELLOFOOD sold a cosmic Valentine's Day cone that "other vendors wouldn't consider," she points out. The increased visibility and business from HELLOFOOD and other partnerships has La Forge weighing expansion. "We are throwing around subscription ideas that would allow Denver-wide delivery, but want to ensure that we grow sustainably and responsibly while keeping quality top-tier," she says.
For now though, God Save the Cream seems poised to stay at HELLOFOOD for some time. "Meow Wolf caters to artistic and quirky creators. Their business model allows God Save the Cream to experiment with interesting and exciting flavors, with nothing out of the realm of possibility that is still food-safe, of course," La Forge notes.
HELLOFOOD is located inside Meow Wolf Denver, at 1338 First Street, and is open only to guests with tickets to Convergence Station. For more information, visit meowwolf.com/visit/denver.