Stapleton used to be boring. It’s OK to say that — even its residents agree.
Mark Shaker, one of the founders of the now bustling Stanley Marketplace and a Stapleton resident, kept telling his neighbors, “it drives me crazy there’s no hangouts in Stapleton.”
Stapleton is within Denver city limits — right at the edge — but unlike its neighbors to the west, its design and character lead a lot of people, including residents, to call it the suburbs.
Stapleton is largely residential, with most of its businesses located on unpleasant-to-walk thoroughfares like Quebec Street. A quick Google Maps search for restaurants in Stapleton turns up a familiar list: Subway, Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, IHOP, McDonalds. One of the neighborhood’s standout dining options, The Bistro at Stapleton, closed earlier this week after three years at 2955 Ulster St.
But the list is changing, thanks to a few people who live there: chefs and restaurateurs.
It started just over the border in Aurora.
The first push for more exciting options began where the property of the former Stanley Aviation building butts up against Stapleton.
At one point, Shaker wanted to open a beer garden in his neighborhood. But after an ambitious team from the city of Aurora showed him the Stanley building, he started to think bigger.
When the marketplace was just getting up and running in January, he told Denverite, “It started as trying to create a local, independent place that families can come to, that friends can come to, that has a cool vibe.”
Now that businesses are open in almost every available space on Stanley’s first floor, nearby Stapleton and Aurora residents have easier access to independent and locally owned coffee shops, bars, restaurants and more.
“Stanley Marketplace has been a pretty big change catalyst,” said Brian Inderwies, who moved to Stapleton in September 2016. “I know my neighbors have really rallied behind it.”
John McGarry, who’s lived in Stapleton for a little more than four years, has seen the same support.
“Stanley Marketplace is off to a great start and a place I’ve already visited frequently,” he said in an email. “It’s executed quite well and seems to get better every week. I’m worried that the rent may not be sustainable for many of the businesses located there, but hopefully they can maintain it.”
Eastbridge? Same deal.
It turned out that Shaker wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood who wanted better for it.
A group of chefs and restaurateurs living in Stapleton were having the same conversations with their neighbors that Shaker was having with his. So when it was proposed that an empty lot where East 29th Drive splits off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard be filled with restaurants, they all jumped at the chance to change the neighborhood.
Eastbridge Town Center sprung up where before there was only grass and dirt. Now it’s home to Italian restaurant Cattivella, another outpost of the Kitchen’s casual Next Door concept and upscale American restaurant Concourse. It will very soon see grand openings for breakfast joint HashTAG and another location of Los Chingones.
Eastbridge is also home to businesses like Polished Hair & Nail Studio, and a King Soopers is now up and running across the vast parking lot.
For Cattivella chef Elise Wiggins, who spent 12 years as the executive chef at downtown Denver’s Panzano, the opportunity at Eastbridge was a long time coming.
“I’ve been here almost eight years now and all my neighbors are constantly like, ‘Elise, we’ll all put money in, please do something,’ ” she said. “If I want to know what’s new and what’s happening in Denver, i have to drive downtown … So I wanted to provide something in Stapleton that everybody was looking for.
“A lot of people that live here, they’re well traveled and literally are hungry for and independent experience. We’ve got our fill of chains here and there’s definitely a few independent restaurants, but there hasn’t been anything that has been close to fine dining, with the exception of having to drive downtown.”
Concourse’s chef, Luke Bergman, is also a Stapleton resident, as is Next Door culinary director Merlin Verrier and chef-restaurateur Troy Guard.
“I’ve lived in Stapleton for five years. You know, there’s a lot of people living out here, but there weren’t a lot of options, so when I heard the Stanley was coming up, I was super excited and is till am. I think it’s an awesome project.”
The timing and some of the financials didn’t work out so that Guard could open a restaurant at Stanley, but things were different when Eastbridge was being developed. He drove his partners by the empty lot and within a couple weeks, they’d signed a deal.
“I of course wanted on board,” he said, “because I knew about Stapleton and believe in it.”
Los Chingones will open on June 24, and HashTAG a little after that on July 1, completing the center. Guard said he chose to bring a third location of Los Chingones there because he thought the complex could use something fun and casual in a good price range. A breakfast spot, he said, was a no-brainer.
For Wiggins, the decision to move into Eastbridge was practically a no-brainer, too.
“City Street [Investors] and Evergreen [Development] snatched it up, then talked to a bunch of us chefs to see if we can plug in different restaurants, and of course all of us jumped because we all live in the area and we know it was needed,” she said. “It was an easy, easy decision. I’ve been looking [in Stapleton] for years to see if a spot would open up. The design is so clean and modern. It was just a perfect fit.”
So far, so good.
On a weekday afternoon in early June, before Cattivella had even opened for the evening, a fairly steady stream of people were filling seats at Concourse and Next Door. Wiggins says they don’t stop coming.
“We’ve been jamming,” she said. “Mothers’ Day, we did 538 covers. As soon as we were opened, we were doing 240 covers a night, and that was before we opened the patio.”
She’s heard customers say had to tried multiple times to finally walk in and get a table. It’s a little shocking to her and her team because it’s all so new. But the No. 1 thing they hear customers say is that they’re happy to have the new restaurants there. They here it so much that they call it the customer mantra: “Thank you, we are so excited to have you here.”
Inderwies and his wife have already dined there, and loved it, he said Eastbridge is one of the things they “absolutely love” about Stapleton. McGarry, too, has become a fan, and says he expects to keep going back.
Guard expects Eastbridge to be a “seven-day-a-week restaurant area” — meaning business will stay consistent whether it’s Tuesday or Saturday — and expects things to pick up when the weather warms up and people want patio dining.
“There’s a lot of money that’s here in Stapleton …”
“… so I have a feeling that more chefs — because of the competition that’s downtown — I have a feeling that more are going to come out and explore our area,” Wiggins said. “I only see it getting better, and a lot people are just really relieved now that they don’t have to drive downtown.”
The way Guard sees it, proximity to other areas that lack independent, local dining options should be a big boost for Eastbridge and Stapleton, too. There’s potential to pull in customers from Northfield, Green Valley Ranch and neighborhoods out toward the airport. There’s also more and more development at the edges of Aurora, where particularly around the nearby Anschutz Medical Campus and Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Plus, he says, Stapleton has planned very carefully for this.
“I think Stapleton did it right. They didn’t over-develop in the beginning and put shitty places everywhere,” he said. “They said, ‘Hey, we’re going to take our time and do it right,’ and that’s hard to do because people get antsy for money.
“I think you’re getting cooler places and cooler chefs and really independent and unique businesses out there.”
Stapleton is looking more like a community, and more like a destination.
It’s not all good news. Like so much of Denver, McGorry reports, Stapleton is still under constant construction and has worse and worse traffic as it grows.
One thing residents seem to agree on, though, is that with the addition of all these restaurants, they’re less likely to get in their cars and drive downtown for a meal. Having non-chain options within walking or biking distance — or, fine, even a short drive — can make all the difference between feeling like you live in a suburb and feeling like you live in a city.
Inderwies and his wife left RiNo for Stapleton because they’re planning to adopt children and they see the neighborhood one that’s “extraordinarily kid-friendly” and that has a strong sense of community. Plus, it’s a short commute for his wife, who teaches at the nearby Denver School of Science and Technology, and they have easy access to public transportation. They looked in City Park North and Park Hill, too, but Stapleton won out.
“There is a sense that we have that Stapleton’s not finished yet,” he said. “I think that in general it’ll feel more cohesive with the rest of Denver … and I think as some of the development starts the slow down in Stapleton, and the trees grow a little bit bigger, it’ll just become a more, I don’t know, desirable, prettier place.”
And to really make the neighborhood complete, Inderwies and McGorry each have a hope for what’s coming next: more grocery stores and a sports bar.