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Chef Laura: Going to The Source

Philadelphia has Reading Terminal Market, San Francisco’s got the Ferry Building, and who could visit Seattle without a mandatory trip to Pike Place Market?  Now it’s Denver’s turn to jump aboard the long-standing yet super-trendy culinary-mecca bandwagon.

The Source, located in the RiNo district, is Denver’s first marketplace concept.  Our cow town, once known for such culinary delights as buffalo burgers, magic brownies and Rocky Mountain oysters, is flexing its gastronomic muscle with this latest foodie venture.

Housed in an historic foundry building circa 1880, The Source opened a few weeks ago.  The minimal design mixes shiny aluminum studs with the original brick bones.  It almost comes across too sterile, but the modern fonts, pops of color and feeling of hope livens up the joint.  Think Sesame Street, not Shawshank.

The business model is as solid as the building – as if the designers were creating their own utopian neighborhood under one roof.  But unlike the rebuilt Death Star in Return of the Jedi, The Source is not yet “fully operational”.  During my visit for lunch last week only the restaurants and two vendors were open.

Inside you’ll (eventually) find everything a hipster could ask for: two restaurants, a brewery, coffee shop, bar, cheese monger, a florist, a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. Wait – scratch that last one.  I meant to say bank.  The planners were smart enough to include a place to withdrawal money – and you’re gonna need it if you plan to buy a $7 baguette.

Sitting near the patio, my friend and I enjoyed a tasty meal at Comida Tacqueri, sampling small plates of nouveau Mexican street food.  The unique carrot habanera salsa was our favorite – if you can tolerate that heat on the scoville scale. We agreed it was the perfect spot for lunch, followed by a little shopping.

A few steps away is the chip off Boulder's Oak restaurant appropriately named Acorn.  This lil’ baby is currently open for dinner.  Once the staffers get their feet wet (you think that would’ve happened given last week’s weather), they will also serve lunch.

I pulled Executive Chef Steve Redzikowski away from an in-depth conversation with his octopus vendor by flashing the secret chef gang sign. Chef Steve earned his chops at Boulder’s Oak on Fourteenth and is now raising Acorn.  Despite the fact that he’s a Yankees fan, I enjoyed chatting with this young chef about his restaurant and the outlook for The Source.

Steve’s optimistic that once the remaining shops open, with vendors already earmarked, business will be like the Red Sox in post-season…booming!  Perhaps I’m putting words into this New Yorker’s mouth?    

“Everything else I'm told is about two to three weeks out,” Steve said.  After describing his bartender as a genius, he showed us the authentic graffiti from the building’s darker days.  Acorn’s embraced the neighborhood’s sketchy past and displays the colorful spray-paint as proudly as if it were a Monet.

The Source is off the grid, which could work for or against them.  Unless you enjoy getting mugged, it’s not walking distance from much; you must drive.  They could leverage the “bad boy” charm of being hard to find and slightly dangerous.  But since it’s not as massive as its counterparts in other cities, (they have tour guides at Pike Place Market) The Source isn’t quite a destination place, either.

Pros - Plenty of parking, good vibe, diverse selection of shops, loft-like office space on the second floor creates captive audience

Cons – Parking lot is easy to miss, pricier than Whole Foods, too small to be a game-changer

Hmmm? – Is Denver ready? Is RiNo the right neighborhood? Does anybody care?

This chef thinks The Source has great potential and will help the Mile High carve its spot on the “map de cuisine”.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling I was the early bird at a party, and everyone else agreed to be fashionably late.  I’ll go back next month to see if all the cool kids got the Punchbowl invite. Hopefully by then, the festivities will be in full swing!

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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