Harvey Park Grille has closed. Is its demise a symbol of discomfort about larger neighborhood changes?

Some say it was too cool to keep going, others say it was a wrong fit.
7 min. read
A look inside Harvey Park Grille, which is closed. June 16, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Josh Epps was gutted when he realized he'd have to shutter his Harvey Park Grille, just four months after he opened it on Sheridan Boulevard.

It wasn't just that the veteran restauranteur, owner of two Jelly Cafe brunch joints, now had to reckon with failure. It was close to home — in his own neighborhood.

He canvassed his community to try to give them something he thought they wanted, or needed. But the hip vibes and menu never brought the busy rushes he was used to in Capitol Hill.

"We put everything we had into it financially, and also emotionally. And to watch something just sink like that is heartbreaking," he told Denverite in disbelief. "I never dreamed that it was going to fail. And now I have to drive by it and answer when I bump into all of my neighbors."

News of the closure set off long discussions on the local Facebook page, as people both lamented and jeered at its short life. Some blamed the menu, or the small service fee he tacked onto bills to pay his kitchen staff. Others were disappointed.

"Well that sucks. Back to having to leave our neighborhood for decent food," someone wrote.

Harvey Park Grille, on Sheridan Boulevard, is closed. June 16, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Harvey Park Grille's demise may be a symbol of discomfort about larger changes in this side of town.

Epps took over a building that once housed Rosemary Cafe. The diner, opened by the original Breakfast King owners in the 1970s, still felt like that decade inside when it closed in 2022.

Rosemary's clientele skewed older and "blue collar," Epp said, like the neighborhoods around it. But he knew he'd have to cater to two distinct audiences as he revamped the space.

Nearby demographics have shifted in recent years, as millennials have moved in and as developers have flipped houses at breakneck speed to accommodate them.

The restaurant was never as busy as Epps had expected, but he did see both of those groups filter through his dining room.

"We had a lot of Rosemary's clients during the day, and what we saw was the newer generation of Harvey Park coming out in the evenings," he said. "That was kind of built into our concept, that we would be an all-inclusive neighborhood place. And I don't know if our decor was too much for one group."

That may have been the case for Jeanette Garcia-Grenoble, who's spent most of her life on Denver's west side.

"He probably should have had a better idea of what the neighborhood is ... it's middle class at best," she told Denverite, speaking of Epps. "I'm not sure that type of restaurant is needed over there."

Harvey Park Grille, on Sheridan Boulevard, is closed. June 16, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The atmosphere didn't sit quite right with Garcia-Grenoble. But it was the prices that really turned her off.

Epps said he was "super conscious" about that potential rift, and lowered prices beyond what he could realistically afford to get ahead of that issue. That became one nail in this coffin.

But Maggie Doyle, a Harvey Park resident who loved the Grille, was one of a group of people on Facebook who said change-resistant neighbors killed Epps' venture.

Before its closure, she said she watched comment sections fill with snarky comments about its menu and presentation. She blames them for not embracing a fresh option on a corridor littered with vacancies and run-down infrastructure.

"We can't have nice things because of the haters," she said. "I'm so depressed. I just cant even."

Alan Baker, who's also active in the group, said the same.

"I think there's a lot of people with a certain mentality that are kind of holding this neighborhood back, because they want to see what used to exist here come back," he told us. "Unfortunately, times have changed."

Whether or not everyone's on board, changes are coming to Denver's southwest corridors.

The clearest view of that change is one arterial over to the east, on Federal Boulevard.

That's where new housing is sprouting up from the old lawn on Loretto Heights' historic campus. Developers have retail planned for the area, too.

On the Sheridan side, Andrew Feinstein — Epps' landlord and owner of the Exdo Development company that's had a hand in reshaping neighborhoods like Five Points and Cole in the last decade — owns about 13 acres around the site of a shuttered Target store.

Feinstein said he's "actually heartbroken" over Harvey Park Grille's closure, and blamed Denver's slow construction permitting system and expensive property taxes for its failure.

"Harvey Park Grille closing is a microcosm of ... or a poster child ... of how difficult it is to put your capital at risk and start a new small business in Denver," he said. "This is a casualty of outrageously high property taxes, insurance costs, labor costs, supplies, food costs, et cetera. They can't make it anymore. And this is the guy that took a chance. How many people aren't even taking a chance because of all this?"

(One note here: A spokesperson for Denver's Department of Community Planning and Development pushed back on the permitting issue, saying the city has "significantly cut review times over the past year." Epps told us the buildout became much larger than he expected.)

The Sheridan Boulevard Super 99 store seen in the window of a vacant property across the way. Harvey Park, June 16, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Despite the challenges Feinstein says are holding back investment, he said he's certain his stake in the block will pay off in near future, both for him and for nearby residents.

"What I would say is long-term — or we wouldn't be investing there — very bullish on Evans and Sheridan. Very bullish on Southwest Denver. And I just think it's a matter of time," he told us. "Denver can't keep growing centrally. It's got to start growing to the west, it's got to start growing to the east, it's got to start growing to the southwest. So we just think that that's kind the word. Denver's growing."

Feinstein's future tenants may face the same cultural challenges that Epps did, but there are plenty of people who badly want something new in their neighborhood.

Epps said he had a feeling he may have arrived to the corridor too early. There weren't other offerings nearby to draw would-be customers to his front door. Maybe he wouldn't have been the sole target of criticism if he'd opened amid a critical mass of new development.

City Council member Kevin Flynn, who presides over this district, said the neighborhood should be able to support whatever comes next, at least in an economic sense.

The city commissioned a study of the area that wrapped up in 2019. Flynn said the study showed the neighborhood could support businesses like Harvey Park Grille. He pointed to another new establishment, Play Ball!, which opened nearby and has had better luck, as proof.

"Figuring out what the people in the area want as far as dining is an art rather than a science," Flynn said. "I think it’s important to have a diversity of offerings in that commercial area, we just have to identify the mix of options."

Feinstein said he expects "the community is welcoming of anything along the major corridors like Sheridan continuing to improve."

Pedestrians run across Sheridan Boulevard where it borders Denver's Mar Lee neighborhood. June 16, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Baker and Doyle, the Harvey Park Facebook group members, both said they're hoping for variety, good food and retail and local owners. Garcia-Grenoble said she wants "comfort food" at "decent prices."

Regina Montgomery, another commenter, said she thought Harvey Park Grille would have ushered in all of that: A new era for the block, if not for the whole area.

"I was hoping that the grille would start maybe an influx of stuff, and get that area of Sheridan to where it could be hip, or not so — looking like a s***hole," she told us. "I was hoping that maybe this was the start of a comeback."

And she was still upset about Harvey Park Grill, she admitted. Epps is her neighbor, and she knows he put his heart and soul into it.

Recent Stories