Two Colorado restaurants are among 25 national recipients of the Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant Program
from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This month, Denver soul-food staple Welton Street Cafe
and Leadville’s historic — and newly vegan — Golden Burro Cafe & Lounge
were each granted $40,000 to use toward outdoor physical renovations and operating expenses.
Both restaurants have been in the midst of change for over a year. After months of frustration with the facilities at its previous location
, the owners of Welton Street leased a new building in the historic Five Points neighborhood in March; new owners purchased the Golden Burro in April 2021 and have been renovating it ever since.
“It was a big moment” when the Dickerson family learned they’d received the grant, says Chereka Dickerson, director of communications at Welton Street Cafe. Her family, who’s run the Five Points restaurant for 36 years, has been applying for grants and loans to help with the buildout of the new location at 2883 Welton Street for the past ten months. “It alleviated a little bit of our stress because we know exactly what these funds are going to go for,” she explains.
The centerpiece will be a large patio door that will connect the interior of the restaurant; the accordion-like door will fold to open up the space during warmer months. The Dickersons will also use the grant money to construct the patio and add an awning and a delivery door. “It allows us to expand and meet the needs of people who like to eat outside,” Dickerson adds.
Members of the Dickerson family stand in front of the Welton Street location that closed March 12.
The Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant Program specifically helps restaurants with exterior renovations and online operations. It was created in 2021 as a means of assisting restaurants to recover from the ongoing challenges created by the pandemic. This year, the grant focused on supporting businesses in historic buildings or neighborhoods. According to the program’s website, thousands of businesses across the country responded to the grant opportunity.
“These establishments have served their communities for decades, and they represent a diverse collection of cuisines and cultures that are integral to the fabric of their neighborhoods,” says Madge Thomas, president of the American Express Foundation and head of corporate sustainability. “Backing small businesses is central to who we are, and we are proud to support these historically significant restaurants in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”
The Dickersons anticipate that the grant will cover about 75 percent of the exterior work needed to open the new location. But they have bigger plans that will run an estimated $655,000 for all renovations. Inside, they need to construct the kitchen, purchase appliances, modify electrical systems and plumbing and build out the bar and seating area. They’ve done a number of small fundraisers, and a GoFundMe campaign had raised almost $108,000 as of July 18
Dickerson hopes that the Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant will open doors for other funding opportunities that can help the family “maintain the structural integrity of the historic building,” she says.
Welton Street Cafe is a beloved Denver soul food staple.
Meanwhile, up in Leadville, Daniel Lundeen and his wife, Marcee, learned about the grant from the Colorado Main Street Program
. The money will help restore the Golden Burro's exterior to its circa 1958 design
“We’re trying to get the building so it looks like the historians want it to look,” explains Daniel. The building was originally constructed in 1888, and has been the Golden Burro's home since 1938. The Lundeens plan to use the money to replace vitrolite tiles, fix the historic marquee sign that shows a burro with a wagging tail, and install an awning over the bar entrance. They’re also teaming up with the City of Leadville to replace some of the bollard lighting in front of the business.
In addition to the financial benefits, receiving the grant feels like “a pat on the back that we’re doing the right thing,” Daniel adds. “We’re trying to fit in with the community.”
Originally from Houston, the Lundeens first came to Leadville to train for bike competitions at high-altitude. In 2014, they bought a second home in the mountain town, and in 2021, while searching for a location for a smoothie shop, they decided to purchase the Golden Burro and turn it into a vegan restaurant.
"There’s been a little bit of pushback, but probably a lot more support” of the vegan fare, Daniel notes. Both attorneys by trade, the Lundeens have been adapting to the demands of the restaurant business while continuing to renovate the space.
They’ve already replaced the appliances, redone the floor and ceiling, added central heat and put in bar stools created with vintage Golden Burro chairs. Still, Daniel anticipates more renovations in the future.
"It’s a 140-year-old building. It seems like there’s always something,” he says. “It takes a lot of upkeep.”
Welton Street Cafe is operating as a takeout-only kitchen at a temporary takeout-only location at 2258 California Street while it waits for construction at 2883 Welton Street to begin. For more information, visit weltonstreetcafe.com.
The Golden Burro Cafe & Lounge is located at 710 Harrison Avenue in Leadville and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, visit goldenburro.com.