Zoës Kitchen is the newest out-of-state chain to make its way to Colorado, with a goal of bringing the freshest and healthiest food possible in a fast-casual setting to our lovely state, or as Zoës CEO Kevin Miles calls it, the "birthplace of fast-casual." (We'll take it.)
But Zoës feels anti-fast-casual for several reasons: a commitment to highlighting simple flavors, a disdain for preservatives, and a hands-on approach to scratch cooking, with several hours of prep beginning each morning at every store before the doors even open. (But isn't that what every restaurant should do?)
The unveiling of Zoës in the Mile High City will begin with six stores rolling out over the course of 2016. The inaugural location, at Southwest Plaza mall in Littleton, is set to open on March 26, adjacent to a Panera Bread outpost in a remodeled space with an indoor-outdoor patio.
Following that, Zoës will open in Westminster on April 26, Fort Collins on May 14, and Union Station on August 4. Next fall, Boulder will get two Zoës — one on 29th Street and one at FlatIrons mall. While those estimated dates aren't set in stone, it's an aggressive schedule — but that's only the beginning. Overall, Zoës has scouted forty potential locations that it intends to open over the next several years, and has prioritized them as favorite spots in the state to open first.
Zoë means "life" in Greek, according the corporate team, which previewed the menu at a recent pop-up dinner hosted by Black Eye Coffee in LoHi. Born in the Mediterranean and raised in the South, Zoës Kitchen hails from Texas, where founder Zoë Cassimus modeled the menu after her family recipes. The board draws inspiration from the cuisine of Greece, but also Italy (head chef Antonio Iocchi's homeland), France, Spain and some twenty other Mediterranean countries. It's a big menu, especially for a fast-casual eatery, and beer and wine are also a part of the program, adding a little incentive for parents who bring their kids in for a healthy alternative to burgers and fries.
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Zoës takes healthy food seriously, with hummus made from scratch daily. The popular hummus trio appetizer goes for $6.99 in-house, but tubs of the garbanzo-bean spread are also available to go, with flavors like original, pesto, and roasted red pepper with a hint of spice. A spokesman for the company condemned preservative-laced hummus typical of grocery-store brands.
Another crowd-pleasing item served at the pop-up dinner was a rosemary-ham-and-mozzarella piadina (a type of Italian flatbread), which Iocchi explains is meant to be light. It pulled apart with melty cheese and flavorful ham on the inside, finishing with the crunch of the piadina, and was perked up with lemon vinaigrette and Calabrian pepper aioli.
The Zoës team was also proud of its super-food-packed salads; the Live Med was prepared in front of our eyes by Iocchi, who ribboned zucchini and squash, added fresh spinach, farro, lupini beans, cherry tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, tossing it all in a Calabrian pepper dressing. The quinoa salad and the tossed Greek are also big sellers.
Kevin Miles of Zoës is responsible for menu development; he introduced the steak kabobs, which he joked just meant he went to the office one day and said, "Can we put beef on a stick?" All of the kabob dishes come with hummus and pita, among other sides. Miles says his other favorites include the chicken-orzo soup and salmon kabobs.
While it's difficult to get a sense of what Zoës Kitchen will be like when the first one comes to town based on an elegant, carefully planned dining experience, the small sampling provided at the pop-up dinner gave an indication of the company's potential to please those with a fresh-food obsession. As other chains have already proven, if it's big in Texas, Denverites will show up in numbers.