Women rule the kitchen at Cafe Options

Women rule the world (or at least the kitchen) at Cafe Options, a new breakfast and lunch spot that opened last week at 1650 Curtis Street on the bottom level of the U.S. Bank Tower building. The cafe, a fast-casual concept courtesy of of Work Options for Women, a non-profit focused on preparing impoverished women coming off welfare for jobs in the food-service industry, is anything but your ordinary, everyday stop-and-go spot, in part because the cafe actually employs several women who have graduated -- or will graduate -- from WOW's 16-week food service training program.

WOW, which was founded 11 years ago by executive director Toni Schmidt, also operates a cafeteria in the stark Denver Department of Human Services building on Federal Boulevard -- a far cry from the new cafe's airy and blond-wooded contemporary downtown Denver digs, where program participants are turning out hand-crafted sandwiches in whole or half sizes, scratch-made soups and large and small fresh salads to a potential workforce of 2,000, the approximate number of employees that occupy the upstairs floors of the U.S. Bank building.

But after a great lunch there last week, I think it's safe to speculate that the 45-seat cafe is definitely going to lure a lot more denizens than just the hunger-pained suits from up above -- and not just because you can stuff your face with a kick-ass French dip, pork cubano or a tuna nicoise sandwich, but because this isn't a joint that's being run like a non-profit. "Cafe Options is designed to be a real restaurant, and we hired people who knew what they were doing," explained WOW board member and restaurant consultant John Imbergamo. "I suspect that 75 percent of the people who come here won't even know that there's a non-profit element; that's just a value add," he said.

A big value-add, considering that the prices for the dozen sandwiches, seven salads and soups/combos bottom out at $7.95. And breakfast? Scones are $3.25, a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, $3.25 and big muffins, $1.75. Even better? Every single cent of the proceeds from Cafe Options goes directly to Work Options for Women. That's something we can all feel good about.

Cafe Options is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; visit www.cafeoptions.com or call 303-573-0733 for more info.

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