Campus & Community / Magazine

Eat Like a Pioneer

From fine dining to fine pizza, mussels to microbrews, you’ll find that some of the best food in Denver is in restaurants run by alums. Illustration: Shaw Nielsen

Denver hasn’t always been noted for its thriving culinary scene. But talk to some local restaurateurs — including a number of University of Denver alumni — and you’ll realize what a foodie hotbed the city has become in the last decade or so.

“In the four years I lived in L.A., Denver’s restaurant scene exploded,” says Aileen Reilly, owner and general manager of Encore restaurant in Denver. Although the 2006 hotel, restaurant and tourism management graduate oversaw restaurants and businesses on the West Coast, she says she “could not wait to get back and work in the city. Denver’s restaurant scene is young and vivacious, with an incredible amount of talent.”

Reilly’s not the only restaurateur excited about dining, Denver and DU. From fine dining to fine pizza, mussels to microbrews, you’ll find that some of the best food in Denver is in restaurants run by alums. Here’s a look.



It’s no surprise that 1515 is big into wine. Gene Tang (BSBA hotel and restaurant management ’71, MBA ’75), who opened the restaurant in 1998, is a master court sommelier and the restaurant’s onsite oenophile, suggesting wine pairings for diners and serving a complementary glass of port at the conclusion of each meal. 1515’s wine selection features 450 different vintages from Colorado and beyond. And how could visitors to 1515 — which is consistently a winner of Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” — go wrong with a side of Colorado lamb, duck or beef carpaccio to accompany glass after glass of vino? (1515 Market St.;


Basil Doc’s Pizza

Mike Miller (BA hotel and restaurant management ’78, MBA ’91) bought the first Basil Doc’s in Washington Park from its original owners in 1999. He went on to open three more Denver locations and garner more “Denver’s Best Pizza” awards than you can shake a jar of red pepper flakes at. (Various locations;


Black Pearl

This Old South Pearl eatery, the creation of Steve Whited (BSBA hotel and restaurant management ’86), is all about contemporary American cuisine using fresh and locally produced ingredients. The result is unique entrees such as lamb burgers, braised bear mountain bison stew and mushroom gnocchi. (1529 S. Pearl St.;


Elsewhere in this issue:

Read more about Blair Taylor and Barolo Grill (3030 E. Sixth Ave) here.


Bones: 701 Grant St.;

Luca D’Italia: 711 Grant St.;

Mizuna: 225 E. Seventh Ave.;

Osteria Marco: 1453 Larimer St.;

Green Russell: 1422 Larimer St.;

Lou’s Food Bar: 1851 W. 38th Ave.;

Read more about owner Frank Bonanno and his restaurants here.

Read more about Steele Platt and the Yard House (1555 Court Place) here.

Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery

This family owned and operated neighborhood brewpub has been in the same spot for 40 years, says David Peterson, owner and son of Dale Peterson (BSBA management ’61), who founded the B&B with his twin brother, Dean, in 1971. The pub’s signature dish — fish and chips — will work up customers’ thirst, and its housemade beers will help quench it. The restaurant’s brewmaster, Gabe Moline, won a 2010 gold medal at the World Beer Cup for the pub’s Legend of the Liquid Brain Imperial Stout. (4700 Cherry Creek Drive South;


Campus Lounge

Jim Wiste (BSBA ’68) never lost his Pioneer spirit. The former DU hockey standout now runs the Campus Lounge, a hangout for DU students old and new that boasts University team photos and hockey championship banners. Expect bar food basics — burgers, sandwiches and beer — plus an array of Mexican fare. (701S. University Blvd.)


ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro

Thanks to Alicia Deters (MBA ’04, MS real estate ’04), one of New York’s hottest chefs recently made his way to Denver. Deters and chef Lon Symensma, who previously cooked at Manhattan hotspots Spice Market and Buddakan, opened the Asian bistro in October 2010. It subsequently was nominated for a James Beard Award for best new restaurant. ChoLon is a testament to Denver’s growing culinary reputation: “[Symensma] thinks Denver is one of the up-and-coming restaurant scenes, and he’s proud to be a part of it,” Deters says. (1555 Blake St.;


Comfort Café

Owner Jan Bezuidenhout (MSW ’85) explains the Comfort Café rather simply: It’s a regular restaurant with a not-so-regular vision. The cozy neighborhood spot offering breakfast, lunch and dinner five days a week is run entirely by volunteers, and it’s all pay what you can. And it works out better than Bezuidenhout ever expected: “It’s just the right thing to do,” she says. “Maybe people are starting to understand that richness doesn’t come from hoarding and having money—richness comes from giving and sharing.” (3945 Tennyson St.;


Crimson and Gold Tavern

If you’re going to a DU hockey match and want to grab a burger before the game and a beer or two afterward, this is the place to do it. Located within stumbling distance of Magness Arena, the area’s newest sports bar — owned by Nicole Machamer (BSBA ’06) and current student Andrew Caldwell — is bustling with fans watching games on TV or preparing to root for their team on campus or downtown. It’s a welcoming, fun environment — unless of course you are rooting for Colorado College. (2017 S. University Blvd.;


Denver Pizza Co.

Phil Coan (BSBA finance ’07) and former “Bachelorette” contestant Mark Huebner aimed to take a slice out of the local pizza market when they launched the Denver Pizza Co. in 2010. They opened two locations — at 309 W. 11th Ave. and 5022 E. Hampden Ave. — for takeout and delivery. (


El Tepehuan

This family-run Mexican-American restaurant has been operating for more than 30 years at its downtown Englewood location. Jesus Corral (BA economics ’07), co-owner with mom Graciela Corral, says its appeal is that it’s a hidden Denver treasure: “It’s a small location. We don’t have a website, no Facebook page. But the locals know it and know that we focus on what matters most — great food and friendly service.” (3457 S. Broadway)


Emerald Grill

Mike Schettler (BSBA hotel and restaurant management ’83) has been in the restaurant business for years. His eateries near the DU campus — first Star Market and later Stick-e-Star — attracted droves of students, and now he’s the popular New Yorker behind Emerald Grill, a restaurant in the Windsor Gardens retirement community. (595 S. Clinton St.;



Aiming for a country-club feel on Colfax, owner Aileen Reilly (BSBA hotel, restaurant and tourism management ’06) and her chef-brother Paul Reilly run Encore with an eye toward great hospitality, food and atmosphere. That atmosphere is made even cooler by the fact that the restaurant is in the old Lowenstein Theater building, where many of the original theater structures — including the box office, ticket windows and stage doors for actors — still stand. (2550 E. Colfax Ave.;



If you’re looking for a cool treat in Denver, you can find it at Kuulture. Run by siblings Jeff, Demi and Sachi (BS biological science ’00) Ena, the Writer Square shop offers seven flavors of frozen yogurt (including coconut and peanut butter) and a whole host of toppings, including classics like strawberries, blackberries, bananas and granola and kid-friendly favorites such as Cap’n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles. (1512 Larimer St.;



Jeff Rogoff’s experience at DU was beneficial for a couple of reasons: He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1993, and he ate so much bad, cheap delivery pizza that it eventually gave him the idea to make good pizza his way. So in 2006, Rogoff opened Sazza (the name is a combination of SAlads and PiZZA) in Greenwood Village. Specialty pies include French onion, chicken enchilada and cheeseburger. (2500 E. Orchard Road;



Pay no attention to the name; Snooze is one of Denver’s most happening breakfast spots. Brothers Jon (BSBA hotel, restaurant and tourism management ’97) and Adam (BSBA finance ’99) Schlegel opened their first “a.m. eatery” in a historic building near Coors Field in 2006 and have since expanded to four always-busy locations. The retro décor is somewhere in between “Happy Days” and “The Jetsons.” Oh, and the food — which includes popular items like pineapple upside-down pancakes, Graceland pancakes (peanut butter cream and bananas to appease a King-like hunger), breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros — isn’t bad either. (Various locations;



For Ben Jacobs (BA history ’05) and Matt Chandra (BA digital media studies ’05), creating a restaurant was all about exposing Denver to Native American food and providing a service to the Native American community — a place to gather and eat. Enter Tocabe, a fast-casual, made-to-order eatery. Popular items include the American Indian taco and the stuffed Indian taco, which include a choice of meats and toppings inside Tocabe’s famous fry bread — made from scratch daily using an authentic Osage recipe handed down to Jacobs from his grandmother. (3536 W. 44th St.;


Vert Kitchen

Looks like Denverites aiment Vert Kitchen. Owners Noah Stephens (BA art history ’05) and Emily Welch (BA international studies ’06) aimed to open a European-influenced sandwich shop after the friends met in Paris while attending culinary school. They succeeded with their small Washington Park location, a spot to find out-of-the-box gourmet sandwiches — such as the house-roasted turkey with balsamic figs, chevre and pine nuts, and the Tortilla Espanola with aioli, manchego cheese and potato omelet. It’s all handmade using organic, locally grown and sustainable ingredients. “Vert” is French for green, after all. (704 S. Pearl St.;


Wash Park Underground

Literally underground at the corner of Downing Street and Alameda Avenue, this Washington Park-area bar and restaurant is a popular happy hour spot and place to grab burgers and sandwiches. Tom Allen (MBA ’97) opened the place in 2010 with the help of chef Judd McDonald, who will earn his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from DU this year. (266-B S. Downing St.;






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