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.]

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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.