Cafe Society

New restaurant to watch: Chef Ryan Leinonen just inked a deal on a Larimer Street space

It's been a good week for Ryan Leinonen, the former chef de cuisine at Colt & Gray -- and a former alum of Root Down and The Kitchen in Boulder. Just two days ago, Leinonen inked a deal on a new space at 2138 Larimer Street, a burgeoning food-centric block that already struts a collection of some of our favorite restaurants: Hi*Rise, Biker Jim's, Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria and Mexico City Lounge among them.

And in October, Leinonen will unleash Trillium, an "interesting concept," he says, that will be a "Great Lakes" bistro straddling the line between Scandinavian, French and Midwestern cuisines.

"I was born and raised in Michigan -- a blue-collar boy -- and I grew up eating 'Michigan food,' but there's also a lot of French and Scandinavian influences in Michigan, plus I'm Finnish, my grandmother was born in Finland, and my wife is Swedish, so it's all sort of a culmination of my cooking and eating experiences," says Leinonen, who spent several months searching for square footage.

"When I left Colt & Gray, I sat on my ass a lot, read a lot of cookbooks and spent some time with my family, but I knew that by January, I wanted to start working on a restaurant, so I started looking at spaces early on, and when my broker found this one, I jumped on it, mainly because there's a lot of resurgence on the north end of Larimer, and it's a young, hip crowd," explains Leinonen.

The concept, he says, really started to come together when he and his wife were in Sweden for a family reunion, and the two took the opportunity to visit Finland, as well. "That was the turning point," notes Leinonen. "Spending time there really inspired me, and I came home with a head full of ideas, and decided that I wanted to introduce what I ate there -- and what I ate growing up -- to Denver."

Leinonen tells me that the board will be small -- ten appetizers and ten entrees -- and heavy on fish and seasonality. In addition, he's mulling over the idea of doing a high-end caviar service. "I have a fetish for caviar," he admits, "and while it's not set in stone, I'd love to do all sorts of different caviar."

Service, he says, will be high-end, too, on par with Frasca and The Kitchen, and the wine list, like most of his ingredients, will focus on American bottlings. "I'd like to keep it pretty American across the board," he says.

The ninety-seat bistro, situated in a former pawn shop, will be divided in half (Ignite, a new wood-fired grill concept from J. Allen Adams, the regional manager of Table Mountain Inn, Via Baci Italian Bistro and Rialto Cafe, is also taking up residence there). It will trumpet a bar, set squarely in the middle of the dining room, a two-sided Scandinavian fireplace, a small patio, pressed tin ceilings and a glass facade, says Leinonen, adding that the space will be "simultaneously warm and modern, with both a Scandinavian and Americana feel."

The name -- Trillium -- notes Leinonen, is a protected flower, symbolizing rebirth, that grows all over Michigan and in Sweden, Finland and Norway. "I see this as a rebirth of my career, of trekking out on my own," reveals Leinonen.

Leinonen is busy securing permits and anticipates that the construction crew will start "slinging hammers" by June 15. "I'm so excited for Denver to see what we have planned. I can't wait," he says.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson