Duke’s is the brainchild of Dan Sawyer, a color specialist for a fabric company who lives in Five Points with his wife, Michelle, just blocks from where their upcoming businesses will be located. Dan came up with the idea for an East Coast-inspired sandwich shop while traveling in New York. “I just thought it would go great with the neighborhood,” he explains. The name is partially an homage to the history of the Five Points neighborhood, where Duke Ellington once visited and played at the nearby Rossonian Hotel.
Michelle told him to go for it, thinking she was calling his bluff. “He always has crazy ideas,” she explains. But this time, Dan ran with it.
When they found the perfect location for the sandwich shop, they also found an opportunity to launch a second business. Duke's kitchen and patio only took up the back end of the leased space. So Michelle, a life-long home baker, decided she’d operate Scratch Family Bakery + Local Market out of the Welton Street-facing storefront.
The space is owned by the Flyfisher Group, a Black-owned Five Points-based private equity investment firm focused on activating the historic neighborhood. Ryan Cobbins, president of operations for Pure Hospitality, the food and beverage arm of the Flyfisher Group, said Duke's and Scratch are a welcome addition to the mix of businesses that have opened recently on Welton Street.
Mimosas, which debuted in August 2020, and MBP, which began serving contemporary American cuisine in June; both are owned by the Flyfisher Group. Cobbins, who opened Coffee at the Point on Welton Street eleven years ago, said as a Black man in Denver, he understands that diversity and maintaining the history of a place doesn't fall solely on race; it's found "where the heart is as well," citing the Sawyers as an example of this. "Dan and Michelle live here and recognize the neighborhood they are in, and also love it," he explains.
The location is also on the same block as two other East Coast-inspired eateries, Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and Famous Original J's Pizza from restaurateur Joshua Pollack.
Michelle and Dan have spent the last year working on the menu for both storefronts. Duke's offerings will include four sandwiches: Italian sausage, meatball, caprese and the star of the menu, the Denver chopped cheese, inspired by the popular sandwich served at New York City bodegas made with griddled ground beef and onions with melted cheese on a hero roll, topped with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments. All the sandwiches will be served from a walk-up window facing Clarkson Street, though there will be a large patio with six long picnic tables.
Scratch will serve baked goods as well as a selection of locally made food items. “We’ll just have stuff your mom or grandmother would have made,” Michelle says, listing off scones, biscotti, dessert breads and cinnamon rolls as a few of the options along with drip coffee. Four cafe tables will be available for small groups to have dessert and coffee. The Sawyers are hoping to add wine and beer to the menu soon after opening, as well.
Michelle, a former nurse, will be the face of Duke’s and Scratch. She left nursing last year right before the pandemic, though she worked in Aurora Public Schools through the 2019-’20 school year. Scratch and Duke’s will be her full-time focus while Dan retains his job for now.
Duke's and Scratch Bakery are the latest — but certainly not the last — changes in this ever-evolving Denver neighborhood with deep roots.