Details about restaurants and retail in the Dairy Block development downtown keep rolling out, but a Denver restaurant family is ready to introduce something on a grand scale that will change the cityscape in a big way. Restaurateurs Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno have confirmed that they'll join the party with a massive market hall called Milk Market.
The Bonannos, known for favorites like Osteria Marco, Bones, Luca and Mizuna, are partnering with McWhinney (a real estate development company), Sage Hospitality (which runs the new Maven Hotel on the block) and real estate firm Grand American, Inc., to roll out the project, which will offer ample opportunities for grocery shopping, eating and drinking under one roof on the block bounded by 18th, Wazee, 19th and Blake streets.
While Milk Market joins a few other market halls — like Denver Central Market and Avanti Food & Beverage — in Denver, the Bonannos have a few twists up their sleeves that set theirs apart. "Jacqueline and I both wanted to do something that was different," says Frank. "We love Denver Central Market — love it. To do something like that is something we’ve always wanted to do, to bring people together to hang out for an hour or two, and to get food to bring home. Our team went and toured a bunch of markets in Chicago and realized we wanted something more than just a food hall. I think because Dairy Block is such a unique destination to Denver, we want to give it a retail component, to make it more than just coming and getting a pizza: You can come and get a crockpot meal to bring home, or a prepared meal to warm up."
One major difference between Milk Market and Denver's other market halls is that Bonanno Concepts will run all of the food outlets, which read like a list of the group's greatest hits — along with several new endeavors. "Jacqueline and I have done so many concepts in the past seventeen years," says Frank. "I didn’t want to just roll out concepts we’ve already done. So we'll have new things — crepes, morning pastries, things like that. These are challenges that the people who work with us look forward to doing. We're reviving Lou’s — our brunch at Lou’s was our most successful meal period, so we're looking forward to doing breakfast seven days a week in this market. And ice cream — we’ve been making ice cream for forever. We're able to buy a kick-ass gelato machine and have really fun flavors. We're looking for thirty flavors of gelato."
Fifteen total concepts will form the food offerings at the market, including Morning Jones, a pastry shop; bao bun purveyor Bao Chica Bao; Lou’s Hot & Naked revival, specializing in hot fried chicken; Albina by the Sea, a fresh seafood eatery named for Frank’s grandmother; Hawaiian specialist MoPoke; salad bar Green Huntsman; sandwich shop S&G Salumeri; Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria; a wine bar called Cellar; and a Colorado-focused tap room named Stranded Pilgrim. Each concept will sell its own alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (Frank cites a sake cocktail and draft beer from Bao Chica Bao by way of example), and there will also be a seating area that provides full service for a limited menu, plus drink service for customers who want to obtain their own meal and then sit down and order a glass of wine. Bonanno veterans Adam Hodak and Austin Carson are handling the drinks program; Frank says the hope is to procure specialty beers for Stranded Pilgrim that are available only at that taphouse and in the featured brewery's tasting room.
The retail side, says Frank, won't be produce-heavy so much as a showcase of local purveyors. "I want you to be able to come get a pound of spinach fettuccine, get some sauce, go to the butcher and get sausage, go to the fish market and get shrimp," he explains. "I want you to come and shop — like a Whole Foods. We’ll have bottled sauce, chips, cool purveyors. We do want you to come and walk around with a grocery bag and load it up. It's very much what Whole Foods is doing — finding local people that can sell cool things."
And some stuff will come from his own kitchens: "The sausages and meatballs, we’ll probably make. Canned San Marzano tomatoes, we’ll sell. The pastaria will sell our sauce in delis [containers]. It’ll be a mix."
The Bonannos also have plans to keep people coming into the market all day long, primarily through educational opportunities via free classes. "We'll have wine tastings, mushroom tastings, mushroom and cheese education — classes in mornings and afternoons," says Frank. "The thought is that they’ll be free classes — small, intimate classes — we’ll have at least ten a week that you can sign up for."
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He says his team is also working with McWhinney, the Dairy Block development firm, to do a weekend craft-food market, selling, as Jacqueline puts it, "things you can take home and put in your cupboard" from local makers along the lines of Helliemae's Caramels. And he says there may be weekend pilates and spin classes, too.
In addition to the Milk Market project, Bonanno Concepts will operate another Dairy Block restaurant called Engine Room Pizza, which will dole out pizza by the slice.
Current Dairy Block residents include the Maven Hotel, Kachina and Poka Lola Social Club, while the project's activated alley (the development term that just means you'll find more there than dumpsters), which we reported on earlier this summer, will house Huckleberry Roasters, an L.A.-imported whiskey bar called Seven Grand, a permanent Denver Flea space named Roost and an outlet of the Perfect Petal flower shop.
And the approximate opening time for this ambitious venture? Nine months from now, or early next summer.