If you’re driving fast down E. 23rd Avenue in Park Hill, you might miss the sign for Honey Hill Cafe.
On the quaint block of 23rd between Dexter and Cherry, there are about nine quiet storefronts nestled between residential homes.
There’s a dentist’s office, a bookstore, an Italian grocer and then there’s Honey Hill, a local coffee shop providing customers with “delish avocado toast” and “a welcoming space for anyone and everyone.”
That’s according to Veronica Hudson, a Park Hill resident who’s thrilled that Honey Hill stayed open despite the hardships of the pandemic.
The loss of local businesses over the last year could reshape neighborhoods, but some businesses did make it out of the pandemic’s most isolating, restrictive days — and some helped us get through, too. We asked Denverites to nominate businesses they cherish that made it through the mandatory closures and other challenges of the last year or so. Hudson gave Honey Hill a shoutout in our survey.
Hudson moved to Denver about four years ago and specifically Park Hill about three years ago.
Her number one “must-have” during her housing search was a nearby coffee shop because “sometimes you run out of coffee,” Hudson laughed.
Honey Hill became that spot, especially in mid-March when the pandemic uncertainties weighed heavy in the air.
“I remember walking in and seeing the owner pretty upset,” Hudson said. “We had a long conversation about being at the precipice of something that none of us have seen in our lifetime. It was one of the first conversations I had about the pandemic that made it feel very real and so uncertain.”
Hudson said the conversation with owner Asal Danesh stuck with her and became a moment in her timeline of the pandemic, the “aha moment.” Afterward, Hudson made it a point to check back often to make sure there were people visiting the cafe.
Soon, Hudson said Danesh “became a neighborhood friend and familiar face that I could commiserate with as the most of the world shut down around us.”
That’s how Danesh likes to run her business.
“That’s our business model,” Danesh said. “We’re family. You’re coming into my house and I’m your host. It’s amazing how fast you can build relationships when you actually truly start hearing people and talking to them.”
Danesh opened Honey Hill in 2019 and she got the idea from her time in Germany. Danesh spent about 50 percent of her life there and prior to moving back to Denver, she lived in a tiny downtown Munich apartment.
“Coffee shops in Germany are like an extension of people’s living rooms because people want to leave their homes,” Danesh said. “People spend all day in their coffee shop. It’s a community thing and that’s what I wanted here. A place where people feel comfortable taking up space for an hour or two.”
The shop name is a mix of the neighborhood, Park Hill, and Danesh’s own name, Asal, which means “honey” in Persian.
When the pandemic began, Danesh said she made a decision to not close her doors and keep all the staff on if possible.
And she did. Some of the staff left for safety reasons but Danesh stayed open for curbside pickup. She said a friend and a local made her plexiglass stands for her doorways, so she could serve guests without them coming inside.
As far as the business goes, Danesh said the cafe is doing okay.
“We’re still scared,” Danesh said. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere but I’m always cautious. No matter what comes, I’m going to put my head down and work through it, even if I go home and cry a little bit.”
On a late Friday morning, Honey Hill was bustling. The outdoor patio was packed with laughing faces. There were few empty seats inside the cool and “instagrammable” shop, as Hudson described it
Danesh said hello to everyone she passed, stopping to give hugs and chatting with her regulars.
Hudson and Danesh quickly talked before Hudson ordered her usual avocado spread on an everything bagel. No walnuts.
Danesh looked around and said she felt supported.
“I think one of the biggest reasons why we’re so close to our customers is because of COVID,” Danesh said. “We were one of the only things people would do or see. Everyday we would see our regulars and we would bond. Park Hill is a solid neighborhood and when they make up their mind to support you, they will make sure you’re okay.”
Hudson shares the sentiment. She described Honey Hill as being her “third place,” a phrase coined by American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg.
Your first place is home and your second place is work, two spaces where people tend to spend most of their time.
Oldenburg said “third places” are the public gathering spaces, such as coffee shops, libraries or places of worship. They serve as social interactive environments, places where people are free essentially.
Social interactions were lost during the pandemic and for some the isolation is still ongoing.
For Hudson and some other regulars, Honey Hill gave them the interactions they needed during the crux of the pandemic. And that’s why Hudson says she’s glad Honey Hill Cafe is still around.
“Having a place that you feel comfortable and safe in this past year was paramount,” Hudson said. “We have our homes or school but this third place is where you want to gather with your community organically. Having this be a spot where I always knew I could come and get my special avocado toast and… feel a sense of normalcy was small but so important over the last year.”
So, what business are you glad stayed afloat during the pandemic? Could be a bar, a salon or a local eatery. Fill out the survey and maybe next time you go, we can go with you!