With the opening of Leven Deli Co. today, the Golden Triangle gets a new breakfast and lunch option with a modern take on the classic deli.
It started with a chat between staffers at Potager, an upscale, farm-to-table restaurant in Capitol Hill. Anthony Lygizos and Luke Hendricks were batting around the idea of opening something together and, because he was “falling in love with this girl who’s the HR director at Snooze,” Lygizos was also falling in love with morning food service. He wasn’t sure if Hendricks would be on board, but it turned out the hours appealed to him with a wife who’s a teacher and a 2-year-old at home.
“Because he had such a great command over fine dining I thought there’s no way he would ever jump ship and get into lunchtime business, something that much more casual,” Lygizos said. “So when I told him about it he said, ‘You know, I’m honestly really interested in this,’ and my head was kind of blown. And that was the start of what we see here today.”
One of Lygizos’ old mentors told him their concept sounded a lot like a spot in Venice, Calif., called Gjusta, So they took a trip out there to see what it was all about, and they were sold. It’s not quite the same, but the two share an updated, lighter take on the old-school deli.
“So that’s our mission, to take an old school Jewish deli and lighten and brighten the cuisine and make it more airy, more zesty and a menu that adds portion sizes,” he said, “because sometimes you don’t want a massively enormous sandwich that’s $30 for lunch.”
Leven (from Latin, meaning to raise or lighten) has a smaller space and a smaller menu, plus a bike-up window serving breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m.
Lygizos and Hendricks also have an aggressive expansion goal — seven delis and one bakery within 10 years — and a mission to make working at their deli financially and professionally rewarding.
“People should be our biggest expenditure,” Lygizos said. “We should be investing more money in our people than in the food or the space.”
And so Leven pays $10.20 minimum but guarantees $15 an hour. Tips are pooled and shared in an hours-worked-per-day system, and they tell employees they can expect to make $20 an hour with tips.
“We have longterm goals to be able to pay managers double that. We call $15 an hour a livable wage in Denver, but Denver’s a more expensive community now, so we say $20 an hour is a ‘thriveable wage,'” Lygizos said. “There’s a dichotomy in the restaurant industry where line-level staff doesn’t want to become management because with increased responsibility and workload you have decreased pay, which is just backwards. And so we have this goal to be able to pay the management double.”
The goal isn’t just giving the staff reasonable living wages, it’s to encourage them to invest a little more in the business and work their way up, building skill sets and a career.
“In our DNA, from No. 1, we were like, if we do this, if we have a chance to do this, we would definitely want to incorporate the fact that we want to be able to pay restaurant people a little bit more, and this style of service is conducive to that,” Lygizos said. “It’s really no secret, you have less people, you have to work a little bit harder, you need to be a little bit busier and you have to have a pay structure that allows them to earn a little bit more.”
Menu items will run you $3 (a pigs in a blanket breakfast option) to $15 (a pastrami reuben). The sandwich selection includes classics like Italian and pastrami sandwiches, as well as items like a fancy grilled cheese and a sandwich made with marinated chickpeas, tahini yogurt, avocado, pickled onion and shaved radish on sourdough flatbread. There are also three salad options, four dessert options, snacks including a green chili and feta dip (!!!) and six-item kids menu.
Leven Deli Co. is located at 123 W. 12th Ave. (in the building with the mural next to the Denver Art Museum cow statues). It’s open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Take a peek at the food: