Food News

These Twenty Hospitality Pros Are Denver's Rising Stars

Anthony (left) and Anna Nguyen are planning to open their Vietnamese restaurant Sap Sua this year.
Anthony (left) and Anna Nguyen are planning to open their Vietnamese restaurant Sap Sua this year. Casey Wilson
As Denver dining continues to bounce back, one industry magazine is honoring some of the most innovative and inspiring leaders in the scene. The StarChefs editorial team recently visited the Mile High City and met with over 100 hospitality pros during week-long trips; a list of twenty noteworthy individuals resulted.

StarChefs' 2022 Rising Stars Award winners represent a cross-section of Denver's food scene, from pros turned pandemic-era entrepreneurs to three winners from one of the city's most forward-thinking restaurant groups. "The Mile High City is standing taller and taller by the minute," says the StarChefs website.

And with talent like this, we couldn't agree more. Meet the class of 2022 Denver Rising Stars:
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Chef Manny Barella is having a hell of a year.
Bellota
Manuel Barella Lopez, Chef - Bellota
Barella, a 2022 James Beard Award semi-finalist in the national Emerging Chef category, spearheaded the Acorn team's transition to Bellota, a Mexican concept at the Source, in late 2020. He's also been a central part of the newly established Hispanic Chefs Association — and makes some truly impressive buttery shrimp tacos.

Dave Hadley, Chef - Samosa Shop
Hadley has appeared on (and won) Chopped, worked at places like Acorn and the Preservery, and, in 2020, officially launched Samosa Shop, where he makes creative samosas and other flavorful Indian cuisine that he slings at farmers' market and pop-ups. He recently launched a line of sauces, and he's got his sights set on more big moves in 2022.

Anthony & Anna Nguyen, Chefs - Sap Sua
This husband-and-wife team started selling Vietnamese food from a cart in Longmont; now they're getting ready to open a brick-and-mortar in Cherry Creek later this year. Read more about their story.

Brian Wilson, Chef - Cart-Driver LoHi
Cart-Driver played a pivotal role in Denver's evolving pizza scene and landed on our list of the ten best pizza places of 2022, thanks to Wilson and his team's wood-fired expertise and creative specials.

Liliana Myers, Pastry Chef - Safta
Pro tip for getting a taste of Myers's talents: Hit up Safta's brunch buffet, back on weekends after a pandemic hiatus.

Tajahi and Danielle Cooke, Community - Freedom Street Social
Arvada food hall Freedom Street Social opens July 13, and one of its unique features is the Chef Kitchen, a residency program designed by the Cookes. Learn more about it here.

Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges, Community - Yacht Club
Along with this honor, Yacht Club was recently named one of four U.S. finalists for Best New U.S. Cocktail Bar at the 2022 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. (That ceremony is coming up on July 28.)

Jessica Richter and Adam Branz, Restaurateurs - Split Lip, an Eat Place
What started as a pandemic pop-up on the patio at Ultreia is now one of the most fun places to eat in Denver. Split Lip, which operates out of Number Thirty Eight, is also our 2022 pick for Best Hamburger.
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Shawn Bergin and his wife, Alex Urdanick, at Bakery Four's expansive Tennyson location, which opened in March.
Molly Martin
Shawn Bergin, Baker - Bakery Four
Bakery Four began in a small space in the Highland neighborhood, where long lines formed early in the morning for Bergin's pastries (and the best bagels in town). After a few months of construction delays, the bakery's much bigger space on Tennyson debuted in March, allowing Bergin to get even more creative.

Alex Jump, Bartender – Death & Co
Death & Co may have gotten its start in New York, but its Denver outpost is making its own name as a cocktail destination, thanks to talent like Jump. Looking for more places to drink? Check out the 100 bars we can't live without (including Death & Co).

Clara Klein – Sommelier – Sunday Vinyl
Chris Rogers – Sommelier – Tavernetta
It's no surprise that both winners in the sommelier category come from the Frasca restaurant group, which has taken home many awards for its wine program and professionals in the past, yet continues to push the limits of great hospitality.

Sarah Kline, Host Chef - Local Jones
When it opened in July 2020, Local Jones had big shoes to fill in the space previously occupied by Gregory Gourdet's Departure, but Kline adds a sweet touch to this Cherry Creek eatery with her dessert program and pastries.

Taylor Stark, Chef – The Wolf’s Tailor
Michael Diaz de Leon, Game Changer – Bruto
Kelly Whitaker, Mentor – id est hospitality group (Basta, Bruto, Dry Storage, The Wolf’s Tailor)
If you're looking for a high-end tasting experience in Denver, both the Wolf's Tailor and Bruto should be at the top of your list. The entire id est group, led by Whitaker, is guided by its mission to define Colorado cuisine in a new way. Learn more about how grains play a huge role in this group's approach to food. 
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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