Some Denver restaurants are swapping concepts entirely

Even as the snow, too, pummeled Denver this week, restaurant owners and workers stood underneath curbside tents and squeegeed off their to-go signs.

They packed boxes of fresh produce for families, or fed free lunches to the hungry. They even popped Champagne bottles and then covered them to send home alongside buckets of fried chicken for people celebrating, well, anything.

“The last thing I want to do is put anybody at risk,” said Troy Bowen, co-owner of Noble Riot (now called Noble Fry-It, a fried chicken takeout spot with to-go wine). “The second-to-last thing I want to do is to let the spirit of this place die.”

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Server Will Albino, right, delivers a to-go order of fried chicken and wine to customer Sarah Shomaker on the curb outside of Nobel Riot Wine Bar, now Nobel Fry-it, in Denver on March 18, 2020.

Bowen is just one of many Denver restaurateurs and bar owners attempting to weather today and the next eight weeks during the coronavirus shutdown.

While Noble Riot opened last April as a wine bar, the closure of the space for two months starting on Tuesday meant that Bowen and co-owners Nicole and Scott Mattson needed to switch their format drastically if they wanted to continue operating.

Using the kitchen of their neighboring restaurant, Nocturne, the team began frying chicken to sell in four- and eight-piece buckets with a side of potato salad. On Wednesday night, responding to a to-go order for a couple’s third wedding anniversary, Bowen selected a bottle of Champagne to pair with the food and sent the pair off with their fried bucket and French bubbles.

“It’s a wine bar, but the hospitality, that’s the hardest part about all of this,” Bowen said. “That was the connecting piece between us all. The fried chicken is just another way for us to get our Noble Riot attitude, or feeling, out there to people.”

Executive chef Jeremy Kuney makes sure ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Executive chef Jeremy Kuney makes sure the temperature of his fried chicken is hot enough as he prepares to-go orders at Nobel Riot Wine Bar or now Nobel Fry-it on March 18, 2020 in Denver.

Not far from Noble Riot, on Larimer Street, the staff of the chef’s tasting counter, Beckon, was questioning all week how to stop their dine-in-only business from hemorrhaging. They had closed their more casual neighboring restaurant, Call, back in the fall for remodeling.

Although it wasn’t necessarily ready to reopen, they decided that a temporary pop-up “resuscitating some of the greatest hits” of Call would be their best hope now, according to co-owners Josh Elson and Craig Lieberman. The curbside pickup and delivery service will start Friday or Saturday, they say, depending on weather.

Call’s greatest hits menu will offer chicken salad sandwiches, soups, toasts and little Danish doughnuts called aebleskivers. Those little bites gained Call a devoted following back when it first opened, but it is harder to say how a Danish doughnut fanbase is eating during the pandemic.

“Day by day, let’s just try it and see what happens,” Elson said, adding that other restaurateurs they’ve heard from have seen mixed results with their delivery and curbside pickup.

Perhaps that’s why some restaurants are making soups for employees and for diners to take home with them — something the nonprofit restaurant Comal has started and Noble Riot is considering.

Or they’re switching to a grocery format, either giving their leftover ingredients to employees who have been laid off, or selling produce alongside other staples to customers.

Reunion Bread is offering one such option this coming weekend, selling vegetables and house-baked breads in boxes, and reserving the first hour of sales — as some grocers have done — for at-risk customers such as senior citizens.

Taking the gesture a step further, Edwin Zoe, who owns the restaurant Zoe Ma Ma with his mother, has decided to hand out only free meals to those in need and “especially families with children.”

“Mama and I had several tearful conversations about our uncertain future,” he said over email. “We decided that if we go down, we want to go down doing what we can to help those in need.”

From 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Union Station restaurant, Zoe and his mother will offer a pay-nothing, pay-what-you-can and pay-it-forward model with simple daily menus. Thursday’s consisted of a pork meat sauce with steamed rice and fresh vegetables.

“Like most of my fellow restaurant owners, I am not sure if our businesses will survive this crisis,” Zoe said. “This will be our only menu offering as it is now our mission.”

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