By Paul Albani-Burgio
While most of us barely had reason to shower in the morning last year, Denver Chef Daniel Young managed to keep very busy.
He started the year by opening Jive, a gorgeous restaurant on Broadway that later fell victim to the pandemic. He then opened two new eateries on Welton Street, as part of an effort led by investor Matthew Burkett to bring new Black-owned businesses to the historic Five Points neighborhood.
Young said one of them, a cheery brunch spot called Mimosas, has been doing strong business amid the pandemic while the other, an upscale dinner place called MBP, was only open briefly before closing amid the fall COVID-19 case surge. But Young said MBP will reopen soon — and it will be just the beginning of what is shaping up to be an even busier year for the chef, who has spent decades in Denver cooking for the likes of Carmelo Anthony and former President Barack Obama.
Young signed a lease on a 5,600-square-foot vacant space at 20th Avenue and Lincoln Street (it was most recently the home of Delhi Darbar), where he’s in the process of opening a new venture that he said will “provide a Black experience” as well as what he hopes will be a new hub for dining, drinking and entertainment.
“My career has taken me into some of the finest restaurants, hotels and locations, which were predominantly white,” Young said. “So coming into Five Points and opening Mimosas was really the first time I actually catered to African-American clientele, and I was so delighted to be engaging with my own people for the first time in my 45-year career. That is why I wanted to continue to bring that Black experience here.”
So what does Young mean by a Black experience?
The chef said it is in part about doing something high-end and professional that challenges some assumptions Young frequently comes across about what restaurants that are both owned and patronized by Blacks can be.
“There’s a stigma when it comes to Black-owned operations that they are typically not hitting the mark in service or are slow or things like that,” he said. “My goal is to provide an operation that is diverse and where people can come to get top-quality service and food.”
The anchor of the space will be a 70-seat restaurant called d…Cuisine that will open in June. He said the feel of the dining room will be upscale, while the menu will represent various cuisines he has cooked over the years, including soul food, Creole, Asian and Southern dishes. d…Cuisine, will also serve breakfast and lunch and an outdoor brunch buffet.
“It’s going to be very eclectic,” he said of the food.
That word will also define the entertainment options that will take center stage on the other side of the space, at JoJo’s Blues, a lounge that will host live music performances every night.
“On the regular there is going to be a deep house kind of vibe that is going to radiate throughout the restaurant and even outside,” Young said in a reference to a dance music genre that infuses elements of jazz, funk and soul. “And then the plan is to feature all of Denver’s best local talent live — and then to also carry that talent on the flatscreens in the restaurant during dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.”
That part of the project, which is named after Young’s wife, realizes a vision that the chef said dates back to the 1990s, when he was a part of a group tasked with revitalizing the historic Rossonian Hotel in Five Points and bringing other new development to the area.
However, Young said that project fell apart after the then-head of the city’s economic development office decided the office would not move forward with investing in the project.
“It was over a million dollar deal for the Rossonian and the city was heavily invested in the project,” Young said. “But he told me he didn’t feel the neighborhood was ready and the time was right.”
Burkett is now in the process of restoring the Rossonian.
“I was going to put a bar in there called JoJo’s at the Rossonian, so it’s ironic that 20 years later it is all happening,” Young said.
In between JoJo’s and d…Cuisine will be a 1,000-square-foot kitchen where Young will host private chef’s dinners for groups and families. During these events, he will cook meals focusing on a specific cuisine. Young is also planning to use the kitchen to host cooking classes for kids.
The action will spill beyond the wall, to the 83-space parking lot just to the south of the restaurant. It’ll be used as an outdoor dining space — Young said he intends to keep it running all year, even in the winter — that will offer views of the downtown skyline to the west.
Young said that while the undertaking is a significant one, he thinks this summer will be “a pretty aggressive one” for the industry as more people venture out to eat after getting vaccinated and looks forward to debuting a venue that will embrace pandemic conditions, with its focus on outdoor space.
“We are not trying to get around it,” said Young of the pandemic’s impact on dining. “We are adapting to it if that makes sense and everything we do is going to be oriented to this new way of eating and drinking.”
There are also plans to use that space for special events, including a breakfast under the stars event that will serve as a grand opening for the restaurant, and regular “smoke” nights where ribs and other meats will be served from a massive smoker.
Although the venture will be Young’s own, he said he sees it as being spiritually connected to Burkett’s larger effort to put a new face on a gentrifying Five Points by bringing in Black businesses.
For Young, that means expanding on the concept he instilled at the Welton Street restaurants, creating dining spaces where the broader Denver community can appreciate and learn about Black culture.
“When you go to a Chinese restaurant or a Greek restaurant you get that culture,” Young said. “And that’s what we want to deliver here with a Black experience.”
To that end, Young said he is reaching out to African-American-owned wineries, breweries and other food and drink producers that can provide their products to the restaurant in an effort to provide opportunities for those purveyors to showcase themselves.
But even as he seeks to provide a dining experience that is imbued with Black culture, Young said the new spaces will cater to all kinds of people and try “to reach out to everybody.”
“The history of Five Points has been about the fight to sustain that African-American identity,” Young said. “But I think now, in today’s world in Denver, we’ve got to be more broad than that and share the community. And if we want to be a part of the community, we’ve got to do things like what I am doing right now and invest in the community.”