Food News

The Molecule Effect's Landlord Won't Renew Lease, and the Community Is Rallying Around

The Molecule Effect's Landlord Won't Renew Lease, and the Community Is Rallying Around
Danielle Lirette
In late September, Mark Landman and his wife, Megyn Rodgers, got an unwelcome surprise: Their landlord's lawyer put a notice on the door at their cafe, The Molecule Effect, at 1201 Santa Fe Drive, stating that their lease would not be renewed. "Over the years, we thought we had a really good relationship with him. Even in August during First Friday, we all sat together and had a glass of wine on our patio," Landman says.

When the pandemic hit, that landlord, Horace McCowan of Horace Properties, was "really good to us," Landman notes. "He did offer some concessions that we were very thankful for, and very recently, we were able to pay that back." The Molecule Effect, which has a second location in the Wash Park neighborhood, had agreed to a month-to-month lease on Santa Fe, so now the business has until October 31 to vacate the space it's been in for seven years. In order to have enough time to close up properly, Landman and Rodgers plan to shut the doors on October 15.

But some in the neighborhood hope to be able to use their collective power to rally behind the business. When Beth Sebian, a longtime customer, heard about the closure, she decided to act. "I spent my lunch break at the print shop," Sebian says, producing fliers to promote a community meeting at the cafe on October 8 at 6:30 p.m. "I really love the coffee shop; I go there a few times a week," she explains. "But over the past few years, I've also taken notice of how Mark and Megyn run their business."

"Our mission was to build a community," Landman says. "We think our name says it all: The Molecule Effect is all about creating chemistry among people. Our mission was to provide an area where people could come meet, debate, have fun, fall in love. And all of the above has happened."

In addition to providing a space for the community to gather, the Molecule Effect focuses on supporting local creatives, showcasing artists' work on the walls and hosting live music from local performers and an open-mic comedy night.

"They're trying to run a business that serves the community," Sebian continues. "I became even more aware of that during COVID, when I saw the efforts they took to stay open and support their employees." Now Sebian wants to return that energy. "I want to support a business that supports my neighborhood."
click to enlarge DANIELLE LIRETTE
Danielle Lirette
She hopes that this meeting will be the first step in figuring out how to raise the community's collective voice against what she sees as an unjust move by McCowan. "I think landlords hold a lot of power, and because of that, they have a lot of responsibility to the community that they should be held accountable for," Sebian explains. "I think local matters. I think relationships and communities matter. This coffee shop isn't the only thing in the world that matters right now, but the muscle of actually taking ownership of our community and what we allow to happen, that feels like a practice that matters to me, and it's a practice that will serve us beyond this, too."

Her goal for the meeting is to answer two questions: Does this matter to us? And what are we going to do about it? She hopes that the group can "get loud and not let this happen silently."

"Megyn and I are just beside ourselves over the generosity," Landman says of the outpouring of support the Molecule Effect has seen since news of the impending closure broke. But he also remains upset and confused by the landlord's total lack of direct communication about his plans to terminate the business's lease. "The ironic part of this is that our landlord is an SBA lender for Key Bank, and I kind of feel like by day he's an SBA lender to help small businesses, and by night he's a landlord and is going to destroy small businesses and do whatever is best for him financially."

Sebian echoes that sentiment. "From what I understand of the situation, the landlord has just behaved in a way that's totally unacceptable, that's kind of greedy and without any accountability to the community or business relationships he has."

But even as Landman, Rodgers, Sebian and others fight to make their voices heard, the business is already planning for a future beyond its current Art District location. "We think we are now a permanent part of the community," Landman says. "With this unfortunate news, we immediately started to see if there were other options in the neighborhood."

But a buildout will take time, so in the interim, Landman and Rodgers will continue to support local artists and provide a space for community gatherings at the Molecule Effect's Wash Park location, which opened in March 2020 at 300 South Logan Street.

The Molecule Effect isn't the only business shutting down because of landlord problems: Factotum Brewhouse will close its doors October 9 after the operators and the building's owner were unable to come up with a lease rate that both sides thought was fair.

While many restaurants, bars, breweries and coffee shops are finally starting to see customers return in pre-pandemic numbers, these examples prove that there are still other challenges looming.
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.
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