An international night market will head under the West Colfax viaduct in Sun Valley

Food, art and culture will collide under a highway!
7 min. read
Proposed viaduct mural.
Courtesy of Lindsay Miller

Walking near the underpass of the West Colfax viaduct on the way to Raices Brewery, Meow Wolf or the Original Brooklyn's in Sun Valley feels a bit dangerous.

The Colfax Avenue viaduct runs through Sun Valley. March 19, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

There isn't much around besides warehouses and whizzing cars trying to navigate the strange traffic patterns getting onto Interstate 25.

Now, community leaders and stakeholders in west Denver are looking to activate the area and turn it into a colorful destination.

On May 14, Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center, along with the West Colfax Business Improvement District and Denver Streets Partnership, will host the Sun Valley Rising Viaduct Night Market, an evening event filled with local food and art vendors. The market will be located at the south end of Empower Field under the Colfax Viaduct west of Raices and east of the Latino Cultural Arts Center at 2705 W. Colfax Ave.

Sun Valley Rising Viaduct Night Market location.
Courtesy of West Colfax BID

"The community has always said, wouldn't it be great to do something with that viaduct," said Jeanne Granville, the president of the Sun Valley Community Coalition. "Highways tend to isolate and separate people, so let's make it into something exciting...where we could feature our local chefs and entrepreneurs, as well as artists and entertainers."

The Colfax Avenue viaduct runs through Sun Valley. March 19, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The event is part of the West Denver Rising Initiative's international marketplace series, which will include five events across west Denver celebrating the area's various cultures. The first event was the Lunar New Year celebration in Little Saigon on South Federal Boulevard.

Members of the Colorado Asian Cultural Heritage Center do a dragon dance during Lunar New Year festivities at the Far East Center on Federal Boulevard. Feb. 5, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

"There's a huge appetite in the Denver community for these types of very local events that celebrate the culture we have here in Denver," said Jill Locantore, executive director of the Denver Streets Partnership. "The South Federal community has been celebrating Lunar New Year for years, but with our help they were able to amplify that event, spread it to more locations along the corridor, really advertise it and invite the larger community to come and participate."

Locantore said Denver Streets Partnership and other organizers were able to secure grant funding for the marketplace. With the additional funding, the Lunar New Year Celebration was able to expand along South Federal.

The other events will include an additional marketplace under the viaduct in Sun Valley in August, the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Far East Center in September and the annual Westwood Chile Fest on Morrison Road, also in September.

Santiago Jaramillo, a member of Kalpulli Tepeyollotl, blesses the land around Morrison Road before an indigenous Aztec dance during the Westwood Chile Fest. Sept. 11, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

West Denver Rising is a collaboration between Sun Valley, Little Saigon and BuCu West Development Association. Besides all being on the westside, Westwood, Sun Valley and Villa Park and other neighborhoods are experiencing rapid development and are considered high-risk for displacement, according to the city. The initiative is their way of banding together to ensure their communities stay their communities.

"It's a bunch of different organizations across west Denver coming together to guide the redevelopment and reinvestment that's happening in West Denver and making sure that it's intentional and thoughtful," said Lindsay Miller, the special-projects manager at Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center. "It's impossible to stop the investment. So West Denver Rising is saying we're going to guide that investment and make sure it benefits people who have lived here for a long time."

As with the established events like Chile Fest and the Lunar New Year celebration, the Viaduct Night Market will feature local westside vendors, like Raices, and musicians like Los Mocochetes. But the night market will also give locals who aren't established an opportunity to show off their craft.

Jack Le struggles to keep up during a pho eating context at the Little Saigon Night Market. Federal Boulevard, June 21, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Miller said some of the vendors will be people who are interested in starting businesses of their own but who don't yet have the capital or skills to get off the ground. It's an opportunity to learn and build entrepreneurial skills.

"We're reaching out to residents and connecting them with the resources they need so, for some of them, they can get their first shot at running a business," Miller said. "We're trying to recruit as many food vendors and craft vendors as we can that have a business idea or maybe have always dreamed about owning their own restaurant or small business, but they just haven't had the opportunity or the training to really take it to the next level."

One of those vendors is Carlos Maestas.

Carlos Maestas of Litto's Fencing on a job in Harvey Park. March 24, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

At 15 years old, Maestas worked as a dishwasher to help support his mother and family. From there, he worked his way up through the restaurant industry from a cook to a waiter, supervisor, general manager and finally a regional trainer. But two years ago, he had a change of heart.

Maestas said he left the corporate restaurant world in search of something more meaningful. He found that at Sun Valley Kitchen and through the Kitchen's owner and founder, Glenn Harper.

"Glenn's a man of little words but a lot of action," Maestas said. "He and the Kitchen have been very supportive of finding entrepreneurs and providing a platform for them to launch a business. Sun Valley is just this place of nurturing. They're nurturing talent and opening people's eyes to something that maybe they have not seen themselves or seen in themselves."

Soon after Maestas found Sun Valley Kitchen, the pandemic hit. He was working at the Kitchen and another job and lost both of them -- on the same day -- when mandatory closures happened.

But through that entrepreneurial spirit "nurtured" through the Kitchen, Maestas said he took his last bit of money, bought some tools and started a fencing business, Litto's Fencing. Now he's got about six employees and is making a livable wage.

Leroy Barajas (left to right), Davis Maestas, Carlos Maestas, Larry McGillicuty and Richie Maestes of Litto's Fencing are on a job in Harvey Park. March 24, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

But Maestas said it's time for him to get back in the kitchen through his up and coming taco stand, Litto's Taquitos. At the Night Market, Maestas said he'll be serving up all his favorites, including his self-proclaimed best taco, the Bella taco, named after his daughter. It's a handmade fresh corn tortilla filled with marinated chicken, grilled Oaxaca cheese, bacon, arugula, marinated tomatoes and a homemade green salsa.

"We take that Oaxaca cheese and put it on the grill and it makes a nice crust," Maestas said. "I hope we spread the word about something new and something exciting. It's not your average taco. Our flavors are different. Our swag is different. I want people to be inspired by someone who comes from the community who has aspirations and is living into those aspirations. I'm very excited for the market. I think Sun Valley is sometimes overlooked because it's such a small community and it's by the Broncos stadium but we have talented people here. It's just an inspiring story."

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