This is the last weekend for The Preservery, the beloved restaurant at 30th and Blake in the Five Points neighborhood. A combination of increasing rent, a high cost of living, and the lasting impacts of the pandemic are causing the seven-year-old restaurant to shut its doors on September 4, after serving its last guests a themed brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
But it’s not the end of the story for restaurant owners Obe and Whitney Ariss. They believe everyone deserves access to a warm meal. Since December 2020, their restaurant has distributed over 4,000 meals to people experiencing homelessness in Denver through their Giving Meals program and they plan to double down on that effort.
“Everybody deserves to go to sleep at night with a full belly,” Whitney wrote in a blog post on August 26, announcing the closing of The Presevery.
The Preservery staff will provide one final food distribution the following week to “make sure that none of our food goes to waste at the end,” Whitney explained. And on October 1, the building will be under new ownership.
Like other local businesses that have shuttered since COVID-19 restricted indoor dining, The Presevery couldn’t bounce back to pre-pandemic sales. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying, according to Whitney.
“The biggest barrier to our profitability was our rent,” she said. “We met with a financial advisor and he’s like, ‘You guys have drilled down and across to an incredibly slim margin. I don’t think there’s any room for saving money there, but your rent is crazy high.’”
Additionally, the restaurant was operating with a smaller than usual staff. Whitney attributes this as one of the reasons The Preservery wasn’t able to fully recover.
“We just haven’t been able to get enough people working here cohesively to sort of return to our fully-functioning selves,” she explained. “And that was a big factor in deciding to actually sell the business versus trying to move it somewhere else.”
The Ariss’ considered buying commercial property to keep the restaurant operating, but the cost of real estate in Denver, moving expenses, and the cumbersome task of readjusting to a different space led the duo to reevaluate their business and personal goals.
In keeping with their mission to provide hunger relief for people experiencing homelessness, the couple is shifting their focus to their latest venture, The Preservery Foundation. The nonprofit is a continuation of the restaurant’s Giving Meal program—a way for guests to purchase a meal for someone in need for $6. Since the kitchen is closing, Whitney and Obe plan to partner with other restaurants and like-minded organizations to address the city’s sweeping food insecurity.
“We have all these things that we want to accomplish that aren’t ever going to be profitable,” Whitney explained.
While the couple shares a love for food, Obe worked in the nonprofit sector for 12 years and understands the logistics of fundraising. Together, the couple is optimistic about their ability to work as a team to support local restaurants and continue to provide hunger relief.
“Being in the food world and having a kid in public school… that really brings food insecurity to the forefront for a person who’s never had to deal with being food insecure,” explained Whitney, who grew up gardening and cooking. “Even when my parents were at their poorest—we were still lower middle class—I never was hungry and we grew all of our own foods.”
Food access was always on Whitney’s mind, but knowing that kids at her daughter’s school were coming to class hungry planted the seed for her to dedicate her life to doing something about it, she said.
So while they are leaving behind kitchen equipment and furniture for the incoming owners, they are taking some lessons learned, warm memories, and their passion with them.
“The common wisdom that I’ve latched onto the most during these really tumultuous times is if everything feels unmanageable and crazy or sad or scary or whatever, maybe try to help somebody else.”
The Preservery will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, September 3, and Sunday, September 4. Book a reservation here.