Openings and Closings

It's Getting Hotter in Here: Music City Hot Chicken Debuts in Denver

Perfectly paired: TRVE Brewing is the new Denver home of Music City Hot Chicken.
Perfectly paired: TRVE Brewing is the new Denver home of Music City Hot Chicken. Kevin Kirshner
Sam Graf, who co-owns Music City Hot Chicken (MCHC) in Fort Collins with his brother Jordan, doesn't seem too concerned about the proliferation of hot chicken spots in Denver these days — even as the two prepare to debut a walk-up window inside TRVE Brewing at 227 Broadway. After a few days in soft-opening mode, the location is planning for an August 6 grand-opening celebration. "I'm just happy the food is getting more exposure," he explains.

When the Grafs opened the original location of their hot chicken joint at 111 West Prospect Road in Fort Collins in April 2016, there were only a handful of places to find the Southern specialty in Colorado, and none that specialized in the fiery fried chicken that Nashville is known for. That gave them an added challenge: how to educate people about the dish.

Then an unlikely source gave the Graf brothers a boost: KFC debuted its own hot chicken around the same time. Suddenly, the general public was searching for spicy fried chicken, and MCHC was there to fulfill the cravings in Fort Collins. It soon developed a cult following: The OG location is bustling, attracting a steady stream of MCHC fans.

Despite that coincidental KFC boost, MCHC is definitely not anything like a national fast-food chain. It is committed to producing a "high-quality product," Sam Graf says, and has been "keeping things very local" since the beginning, using vendors like Fort Collins's Old Town Spice Shop, which custom-blends the restaurant's spice recipes, and tempeh from Avogadro's Number (where Sam used to work) for its vegan option.

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Sam Graf (left) and assistant general manager Damian Burford at the new MCHC Denver outpost at TRVE.
Molly Martin
Now MCHC is bringing its hot chicken expertise to Denver. Although the menu at this location will be smaller than at the original — focusing on tenders, plates, a small selection of sandwiches (including the tempeh option) and MCHC's most popular sides — Sam hopes the outlet will be able to play around with specials, too.

The partnership with Denver's heavy-metal brewery happened organically, after the brothers met TRVE founder Nick Nunns. "It kind of started as a joke," Sam says. The Grafs had gotten a lot of requests to add more MCHC locations over the years, but "we didn't want an expansion that didn't speak to our character," he explains, adding that TRVE's brand and the people behind it aligned with the Grafs' own vision for their business. "It just felt right."

The process of building out the space left vacant when TRVE moved its brewing equipment off site began pre-COVID, but the pandemic delayed progress, pushing the opening goal back more than a year.

And over that time, hot chicken became an increasingly hot commodity in Denver. It's now a common sight on menus at places like the Post Brewing Co., Steuben's, Lou's Food Bar, Chicken Rebel, Walkin Chickin and more. Jared Leonard's Budlong Hot Chicken arrived in Denver in 2018 at Zeppelin Station and moved into a permanent home in Washington Park in September 2020. In February 2020, Lea Jane's debuted at Avanti; it opened a second location in RiNo this year and has plans to expand to Englewood and the University of Denver neighborhood soon. And most recently, L.A. concept Dave's Hot Chicken opened at 99 South Broadway, just a few blocks south of TRVE.

"Hot chicken is a very new concept to our region," Sam says, "and I would imagine all the other restaurants put a lot of time and care into their product. Think about tacos: There are hundreds of taco restaurants, trucks, carts in the Denver metro area. If they're not good, they don't make it. A lot of what makes it good comes down to palate preference and environment. I could never say for certain that we have a superior product, but what I can say is that I really like our flavors and I love our environment."

After all, a lot of people like it hot.

Music City Hot Chicken in Denver is located inside TRVE Brewing at 227 Broadway, #101, and is open from 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit mchcco.com.
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin