Bamboo Sushi founder Kristofor Lofgren has big plans in Denver for his growing brand. While Bamboo, and its fast-casual sibling QuickFish, started out in Portland, Oregon, Lofgren has targeted the Mile High City as the company's only current market outside the Pacific Coast. With one Bamboo Sushi and one QuickFish already operating here, Lofgren plans to open two more Bamboo outposts within Denver city limits in the next two years.
Bamboo Sushi first came to Denver to take advantage of the restaurant incubator program at Avanti Food & Beverage, opening a sushi counter on the second floor of the food hall in May 2016. From there, Lofgren leapfrogged to a full-scale restaurant just up the hill at 2715 17th Street in November 2017. The Avanti sushi counter converted to QuickFish, a concept specializing in Hawaiian-style poke.
Lofgren's next move is slated for the 9th + Colorado development (at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and East Ninth Avenue, unsurprisingly). Construction has barely begun at the site, where Hopdoddy, Postino and Zoes Kitchen have already committed, so completion is still many months away. Also in the works is a downtown outpost that will go in at 17th and Market streets, in the former RTD bus terminal space that will be called Market Station when complete. Lofgren points out that since both sites are mostly just big holes in the ground right now, sushi won't be served until spring 2019 and early 2020, respectively. By then, he adds, he'll be making plans for a larger version of QuickFish in town.
Bamboo Sushi was founded on the principle of sustainable seafood, and Lofgren called it "the first certified sustainable restaurant in the world" when he spoke to Westword in 2016. The first Bamboo opened in Portland in 2008 and received certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. With more growth planned (the company is currently building restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco, in addition to adding locations in Denver and Portland), Lofgren's primary concern is maintaining the mission of sourcing sustainable seafood while increasing the scale of operations.
But he's also looking at becoming a part of Denver, much as he has in Portland. "We're looking at building community in Denver," he explains, pointing out nonprofit events Bamboo has participated in over the past two years. And then there's Table of Change, a dinner series hosted by Bamboo to bring together some of Portland's top thinkers to challenge them to look beyond their own fields for new ideas and solutions; he hopes to bring the series to Denver, too.
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"We want to be a switchboard for people to connect," the entrepreneur adds.
In addition to seafood, the company is looking at other ways the people of Portland and Denver are eating. The newest QuickFish in Portland, for example, will offer more plant-based options, adaptogenic beverages (with herbs and other ingredients considered by some to help combat biological stress) and what Lofgren calls "food as medicine," all in an environment designed to be a cut above standard fast-casual eateries.
Coming to a new city can be tough for a restaurant group; adapting to Denver's culture while still maintaining an identity means listening to customers and scouting ahead to get a firm grasp on what Denverites like and want. Bamboo Sushi has done that to this point, and as a result earned our Best Sushi Bar award this year.
Over the next two years, we'll find out if that level of excellence is sustainable across multiple restaurants.