Is an open-faced sandwich more than just a regular sandwich missing a piece of bread? Is it more than fancy toast? Jake Riederer thinks so, and he also thinks that sandwiches — open-faced or not — can be a good, and tasty, way to fund food-based nonprofit organizations.
That’s why he’s opening a sandwich shop with the admittedly difficult-to-Google name of Open, which he chose because his original plan called for serving only open-faced sandwiches. Riederer is now aiming to launch Open on March 1 inside American Bonded, at 2706 Larimer Street, but he won’t be making the sandwiches himself. Instead, he’s relying on his network of industry connections to build a menu of sandwiches — open-faced or not — designed by prominent Denver chefs.
Riederer’s restaurant career had been focused on front-of-house operations until recently, when he decided to go into business for himself. He was the general manager at Super Mega Bien until January 2020, when he left to join the Postino Wine Cafe group. Then the pandemic hit and Riederer re-evaluated his position in the industry, sticking it out through many changes to COVID-based regulations and restrictions before leaving Postino in the fall.
“With the pandemic and everything else that happened in the last year, it just felt like it was time to try something new,” Riederer explains. “My wife said I had to do it. And when she’s right, she’s right.”
And so he started working on Open. “There are so many shitty things that have happened during the pandemic, so it’s great to be able to do something small for not a lot of money,” he adds. “But [the pandemic] has come at a lot of cost for a lot of people, and I don’t want to minimize that.”
Because of those costs, Riederer decided that a portion of each sandwich sold would go toward charities chosen by the chefs designing the menu. So far, he’s enlisted his former boss, chef Dana Rodriguez of Super Mega Bien and Work & Class; Tommy Lee, founder of Uncle and Hop Alley; Jeff Osaka, chef/owner of Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama; Toru Watanabe, chef at Matsuhisa in Cherry Creek; and chef Cliff Blauvelt of the Tap & Burger group. As it turned out, all of the chefs agreed that the money should go toward Project Angel Heart in honor of the organization’s previous executive chef, Brandon Foster, who passed away last summer. Project Angel Heart’s mission is to deliver medically tailored meals to people dealing with life-threatening illnesses.
While Open’s charity component — to donate one dollar from every sandwich sold — has been consistent from the start, Riederer shifted from the concept of topless sandwiches when he received his first submission from a chef...and it wasn’t open-faced. “The idea was that each sandwich is a meal in and of itself, made with premium food, so you can get a sandwich created by a James Beard-nominated chef, but without the price,” he explains. “With open-faced sandwiches, you can do all the fun things like glop on sauces and broil cheeses.”
But then Watanabe came up with a pork katsusando (a breaded and fried pork cutlet) made on fluffy white shokupan bread from Tokyo Premium Bakery, and it was so good that Riederer didn’t care that it was a traditional sandwich. Now he’s relaxed the parameters a little, as evidenced by Blauvelt’s meatloaf sandwich between two pieces of bread.
One of the bonuses of this shift in plans is that customers will get to enjoy more of the locally made breads Open will be using, including naturally leavened products from GetRight’s Bake Shop, a tiny bakery (and succulent greenhouse) run without a storefront by Matt and Lindsey Dulin. And GetRight’s bread will be the base of at least one open-faced creation — a Baja-style fried shrimp sandwich that promises to be knife-and-fork messy.
That shrimp sandwich was designed by Rodriguez, who might also contribute a cochinita pibil sandwich to the menu, Riederer says. Also in the blueprint stage is a Sichuan brisket sandwich from Lee. For his contribution, Osaka is looking at his own menu for inspiration. “I think our own chicken karaage [at Osaka Ramen] is pretty awesome, so why not build on that?” he asks, adding that the fried chicken sandwich will include spicy slaw, mayo and Japanese pickles.
“I was happy to do something for Jake,” Osaka adds, “and a dollar of each sandwich goes to a charity of my choice. Project Angel Heart has always had a soft spot in my heart, and they had to cancel some of their major fundraising events last year, so this will help them out a little.”
Moving away from open-faced sandwiches wasn’t the only change in plans. Riederer originally thought that Open would start out as a ghost kitchen, but after he’d looked into a number of new commissary kitchens in Denver and was feeling discouraged by the potentially high service fees charged by third-party delivery companies, the American Bonded space opened up. (It had been used by Kitsune, a bento-box delivery company, while the bar has been closed; American Bonded is slated to reopen on March 1.) He still plans to make the food accessible for takeout and delivery customers, but says that the built-in customer base at American Bonded made that location more attractive than a commissary.
The complete menu has yet to be hammered out, but with the charity chosen, Reiderer says he and Open’s chef, Jonathan Chavez, can work on testing the recipes to have them perfected by opening day.
Open plans to, um, open on March 1, to coincide with the reopening of American Bonded, and hours will initially be 4 p.m. to close, which will depend on Denver’s COVID guidelines at the time.
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