Last year Nicholas Allmond and fiancée Olivia Dungey sold their house in Michigan for the capital to open a restaurant in a town they set out to find on an epic road trip. They spent six months living in a tent, running and rock climbing wherever their spirits moved them, but also looking for a new home.
“Our goal was to smile, climb mountains, run, have fun,” Allmond said, “but most importantly to find a place to live and open a business.”
They found it in Olde Town Arvada, which has been growing into one of the hippest spots in the metro area, where they opened a “plant-based” kitchen and juice bar three weeks ago called Urban Beets. It’s a block and a half from a stop on RTD’s recently opened G Line.
“Olivia and I traveled around the entire country, looking for places,” said Allmond, an ultrarunner who came to the sport and a plant-based lifestyle after a near-death experience six years ago that diverted him away from drug addiction and alcoholism. “This place won. That is because it’s so awesome. The vibe is quaint meets hip meets up-and-coming.
“You’ve got the mountains to run in, right in your backyard. A 15-minute ride and we’re in Clear Creek Canyon, setting our ropes and going rock climbing. Or we can get on the G Line and head to Denver, go to a nightclub, see a ball game. There’s just so much opportunity in this small little pocket.”
Most of the vegetables they use come from a farm a couple of miles away, and they look for other ways to support local growers.
“Every Sunday in Olde Town Arvada they have a farmer’s market down at the park,” Dungey said. “We go down there in the morning, find some cool veggies and create a farmer’s market dish on Sunday for everyone to enjoy.” They called this past Sunday’s creation “Farmer’s Market Stuffed Spaghetti Squash.”
They prefer not to call Urban Beets a vegan establishment, though. Vegans, Allmond acknowledged, can be a little pushy.
“I like to say plant-based,” Allmond said. “Vegan kind of scares people. Plant-based is like, ‘I do this for me, for the environment, I think it’s healthy, but I’m not going to beat it down anyone’s throat.’ ”
Besides, they know they need to appeal to more than vegans, using ingredients that taste like meat.
“Vegans, we got that market,” Allmond said. “We want you happy. We want you to bring your friends back, whether they are omnivores, carnivores, vegans. We want to feed everyone.”
They have five house-made juices with recipes they developed through experimentation, two of which are beet-based. Some studies claim beet juice can enhance the delivery of oxygen to muscles, so some endurance athletes use it to enhance performance. Allmond, who has competed in Toughest Mudder endurance races and once ran a 200-mile race around Lake Tahoe, swears by it. He also believes ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory.
“I went plant-based when I started becoming competitive in the Toughest Mudder series,” Allmond said. “I started running 60-, 70-mile weeks, I was doing CrossFit five days a week, and my body was suffering. The research I was reading was, ‘Try a plant-based lifestyle and you won’t have as much lactic acid in your body, therefore you won’t get as sore.’ I could run an 80-mile week and not be sore.”
Allmond’s endurance endeavors and his natural lifestyle stand in dramatic contrast to the dark place where he was six years ago. He was a severe alcoholic and drug addict, using cocaine and trying heroin once. When he hit bottom, he found himself in a hospital with a collapsed lung and received a stern warning.
“When I got to what felt like my death bed,” Allmond said, “when the doctor saved me, he said, ‘You can either start making healthy choices or we’ll see you in a month and we’re not going to be so kind to want to save you.’ That was a big ear-opener.”
He met Dungey while in the process of getting sober. “He was at the end of that stage of his life,” Dungey said. “We started to find activities that we could do together; hiking, then running.”
Allmond says she would not be with him if he had not gotten sober, and she helped him get there.
“She was my hope,” Allmond said. “She was there for me. She was my inspiration, because I wanted to be with her. There was no chemical in the world that could stop me from being with her.”
Now, only a few weeks removed from traveling wherever whims moved them to go running and climbing, they put in 80-hour weeks and walk to work.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve done some really, really challenging things,” Allmond said. “Nothing compares to this.”