Openings and Closings

The Coronavirus Shutdown Claims the 20th Street Cafe

Rodney Okuno could often be seen cooking breakfast at his downtown eatery.
Rodney Okuno could often be seen cooking breakfast at his downtown eatery. Danielle Lirette
One of our favorite breakfast joints, the 20th Street Cafe, flipped its last blueberry pancakes in late March and won't return, even after restaurant restrictions are lifted and dining rooms begin to open back up to customers. Yesterday, owners Rodney and Karen Okuno posted a message on their 74-year old eatery's Facebook page that they'd decided to close permanently.

The Okunos initially tried to stay open for takeout business after Mayor Michael Hancock closed bars and restaurants to dine-in customers on March 17, but by March 27 they had decided to close until further notice to protect the health and safety of their employees. And then yesterday, they announced their decision to completely shutter the cafe:

It is with a heavy heart that Rod and I have made the final decision to close the 20th Street Cafe permanently. The Okuno family has had the privilege of serving Downtown Denver since 1946 beginning with Rod's grandparents Harry and Tsugi Okuno. Followed by his parents Ted and Ann Okuno. Rod and Karen followed them beginning in 2000 and have enjoyed meeting and becoming friends with many many wonderful people. We thought we had a few years left before retiring but with all that has happened in the world and the economy we decided that trying to reopen after the pandemic and trying to make a realistic go of it would be impossible. We want to thank the many longtime customers, friends, neighbors and family for the years of trusting us to feed your families food that you loved and returned for year after year. And an extra special thanks to our fabulous employees who stuck with us through thick and thin for so many years. We were blessed to have such dedicated people with us. Somehow 20th Street Cafe managed to stay open through a lot of good times and not-so-good times. Some up turns and crazy downturns in the economy but this final one proved to be insurmountable for our little corner of the world. As the song goes 'So long it's been good to know you.' Love you All Rod & Karen Okuno 
click to enlarge The 20th Street Cafe looked not much different in 2018 than it did when Rodney Okuno's grandparents ran it. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
The 20th Street Cafe looked not much different in 2018 than it did when Rodney Okuno's grandparents ran it.
Danielle Lirette
Even in 2018, our then-restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurtz, worried about the future of the 20th Street Cafe, one of the last old-school holdouts in a changing downtown landscape. "No one talks about it; it almost never lands on anyone’s list of best brunches or cheap eats," she wrote in her review of the place, though she quickly noted that "prices are cheap and portions are big enough for two. All of which means that it’s ready for rediscovery."

And the 20th Street Cafe did attract notice, most recently on our list of Denver's twelve best breakfast restaurants, which we ran just a week before the statewide shutdowns began (and which already feels like a lifetime ago). We found shelter in the cafe as a place to "pocket your smartphone and grab a newspaper" and "experience Denver as it once was."


But the closing of the 20th Street Cafe is a reminder that we may never again experience Denver restaurants as they once were — even just a few weeks ago.

Look back in time with our complete slideshow of the 20th Street Cafe as it was in 2018, which wasn't much different than its previous 72 years.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation