Chaotic restaurant scene jolts University Park

Photo: A new restaurant concept, Birdcall, will be opening on the northwest corner of Evans and Franklin. 

The restaurant business around DU is tough. With students absent 22 weeks per year, limited parking, changing tastes and lots of local competition, there are big changes going on around the University Park neighborhood.

There is always heavy turnover of restaurants in Denver with the intense competition but these changes are impacting local DU students who frequent these establishments and many who work part-time at these same businesses. put together a video of students commenting on the impact of the closings on the DU community.

But some help may be on the way…or maybe not. 

A chicken sandwich concept restaurant at Franklin & Evans, Birdcall, hasn’t even taken flight yet. But its founder, Park Burger owner Peter Newlin, already is hatching a second location near DU after opening up his first concept in the Five Points neighborhood, just north and west of Coors Field. The menu will include a variety of chicken sandwiches, including cordon bleu, Nashville Hot, and kimchi. Lunch sandwiches will range from $5 to $8, and breakfast sandwiches will be between $3.50 and $6.

The Birdcall will replace a terrible Mexican fast food restaurant, Twisters, that was unable to survive delivering low quality and poor service – even if at an affordable college student price.

A more modest upgrade has taken place across the street at Chipotle. The original Chipotle at 1644 E Evans Ave opened in 1993 in this modest 750 square feet at a closed Dolly Madison ice cream shop located west of DU. The interior was recently remodeled and slightly expanded with upgrades to the kitchen and basement storage. The remodeled store has a maximum occupancy of 17 and still battles against a similar menu at Illegal Petes, 1 block east, which offers much more seating, liquor, and TVs. Superman would have more luck changing in a phone booth than ordering the burrito bowl with guac during their busy lunch hour.

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The remodeled Chipotle has reopened with a more contemporary interior, more room behind the counter and increased storage according to employees.

Noodles and Company recently shuttered their restaurant at 1737 East Evans along with 55 other restaurants nationally. The location remains closed with no new tenants named at this time. If this is your destination, bring a sack lunch.

Noodles and Company closed this restaurant at Evans & South Williams Street in February this year.

Near the corner of University & Evans, the new Four Friends restaurant will take over where Redford’s Tavern recently closed on University Boulevard. Redford’s went off a cliff – just like the real Redford in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. The new owners were said to like the space because of its proximity to the University of Denver, established residential neighborhoods and a number of new apartment buildings. There are another two breakfast restaurants on South Broadway near DU – the new Morning Collective and Breakfast on Broadway. And, of course, Pete’s, Jelly’s, Spanky’s Urban Roadhouse and others currently serve breakfast fare.

Do we really need another?

[Editor’s note: Yes. Yes we do.]

Image result for redford's tavern
Redford’s Tavern is being taken over by Four Friends Kitchen, a southern comfort breakfast concept.

Next door neighbor to Four Friends, Nova Yogurt on University shown brightly for a while but eventually faded away, just like its celestial namesake.

A grand opening of Bambu, an Asian coffee and tea house, is taking place now in Nova’s former home.

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Nova Yogurt during better days.

Even the Subway sandwich shop near University and Asbury, north of Four Friends, closed several months ago along with several other small restaurants and businesses along University Boulevard.

You get the idea.

Some of the changes appear to be upgrades while others seem to just duplicate existing offers in the area.

So should DU be a spectator or a participant in the University Park restaurant changes?

The University of Denver, as part of their DU Impact 2025 Strategic Plan, have formally expressed an interest in developing a ‘DU District” to improve the communities experience in and around DU. If that is the case, DU should get more active in either supporting new concepts financially, supporting a retail master plan, provide marketing and business counseling support or even secure sub-leases on vacant property – and strategically rent locations to business concepts that align with the master plan. It will cost money and take resources but if DU is going to ‘walk the walk’ on a DU District, a proactive plan needs to be developed to address shuttered retail locations around DU to limit the current cycle of business closures.

Sure, it sounds a bit “Big Brotherish” – but retail plays a critical role in supporting, feeding, and entertaining the DU community.

At least the old standby, Mustard’s Last Stand, has weathered the storm of local changes.  Some things will always survive the test of time.

14 thoughts on “Chaotic restaurant scene jolts University Park”

  1. Great post. Chaos indeed. Those of us who don’t live in Colorado now have a good feel as what eating around DU is like today. Smallest Chipolte’s I ever heard of. Parking was not an issue in my day. 100+ $5 parking tickets over 4 years was part of my budget.

    1. Chaotic is an understatement. It’s been like that in the area my entire life. Also, it’s the smallest Chipotle because that was the cheapest spot founder Steve Ells could find at the time. He used that location to develop his menus and processes. It’s worth noting that the Evans location is the only one without the “walk-along” counter. I’m really curious to see what they do with the former Noodles space since it is a relatively new building.

      1. Ironically, if Chipotle moved to the noodles space and redesigned the flow, it could compete with Illegal Petes with their offer. But the old space is historic and, probably, hard to leave.

  2. The Noodles and Co. store closed for one reason: the plumbing. The right ‘fix’ to that problem was more than either Noodles or the building owner were willing to pay. It will likely remain unoccupied for a long, long time. A blight.

  3. Unless it closed and then reopened in the past year, Breakfast on Broadway has been open for at least three years I’d say.

    Lack of parking is a big issue with all eateries near DU.

  4. Interesting summary of the changing (and in a few cases steady- Mustards & Spankys UR) culinary landscape. On the breakfast front: breakfast on broadway is about 10 years old, not so new. I did try the very new morning collective just last week – cool place and good food.

    With respect to DU investing or otherwise providing financial backing to new places – can’t say I agree. Biggest priority is building endowment to (try) to keep tuition ‘down’ ( a very relative term). Bars/restaurant open and close all the time – not a problem (until you lose your favorite one!)

    But thanks for the interesting articles while we wait just a bit more for hockey to start !

  5. Good article, and the interviews with students were interesting. No question that there has been a LOT of turnover. But there have been some places with pretty decent longevity now, some of which are mentioned in the article. One place that (by outward appearances) is doing really well is Asbury Provisions. Great beer selection and cocktails, good vibe, and very good food. It’s exactly the type of place that makes the area better–independent, great quality, etc. They do get jam packed before hockey games, but it seems to me that they do well when school is not in session, too. Maybe other places can see what Asbury is doing, and replicate their success. I’d say they cater like 30% to students (they have some cheap beer, too) and 70% to “adults” with more money to burn on Belgian beers, craft cocktails, etc.

  6. Students aren’t the only ones impacted by the scarcity of dining options near campus. Staff and faculty -many of us here year round – crave some “grown up” food that is healthy, delicious and won’t put a huge dent in our (dare I say it?) low salaries. 😒

  7. There are so many more dining options now near DU than there ever were in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s when old farts like us were at DU. The big challenge that any of them face is that there isn’t enough foot traffic during 22 DU break weeks each year without students, and not enough parking when the students are around.

    Looking forward, here are the kinds of places that might survive DU’s unique location quirks:

    -A great hamburger place. Mustard’s Last Stand might own hot dogs near DU, but every campus needs a quality burger joint, which DU lacks.

    • A true campus beer hall – the dark kind of cavernous place where you carve your initials in the old wooden tables on your 21st birthday and drink pitchers of cheap beer. Many campuses have one, and DU could use one. The Border (or whatever it’s new name is) doesn’t count.

    • A wine bar where females would feel more comfortable. At 56% of the DU population and skewing affluent, and better margins on wine sales than beer, this could be very profitable if done well. Could make even more money with jazz trios at night.

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