Restaurants in North Denver neighborhoods served the community more than food in 2021. They inspired the community with their resilience. Despite closures, staffing problems and pivoting to takeout and outdoor dining, restaurants have adapted and are now looking forward to 2022.
The Blazing ChickenShack II had an easier time than many adapting. “We were open all during COVID,” said co-owner Leola Gant. “Even when they were shutting down the restaurants, we managed to stay open. It was the takeout because that’s mainly what we were doing anyway.”.
The Blazing ChickenShack II, found in Park Hill, is home to authentic soul food. Leola Gant owns it with Rhonda Banks, and Gail and Ray Moore. They say that their current location allows them to interact with their customers intimately. They serve many repeat customers, allowing them to build relationships. Gant says, “once you walk in our door, you are family.”
The Blazing ChickenShack II says they began the year slow, but picked back up as COVID became more manageable. “We’ve been lucky, we’ve been blessed.” In 2022 The Blazing ChickenShack II wants to keep the doors open and continue supporting the community that does so much for them. “Everything seems to be going well. The customers still love us.”
Whittier Café, founded in the Whittier neighborhood, is Denver’s only African espresso bar. Whittier Café not only creates quality pastries and coffee drinks but takes immense pride in supporting their community too.
In 2021, they were most proud of relearning how to show up for the community. Owner, Millete Birhanemaskel, said, “From planting a sign garden with recycled protest signs, to live streaming patio-only events, to Wi-Fi passwords that highlight current social issues (i.e., #TigrayGenocide), it has been a challenge, but we are adapting.”
Whittier Café typically, holds Ethiopian coffee ceremonies every Sunday but COVID-19 put a hold on this. According to Millete, “our biggest struggle has been canceling our signature offering – the East African coffee ceremony. That is a weekly ritual that we’ve been unable to perform because of the deep community, connectedness required for the hour-long ceremony.”
With 2022 right around the corner, Whittier Café hopes to figure out how to restart that in a COVID-friendly way. Birhanemaskel said, “we look forward to continuing to be a voice for oppressed peoples and communities in 2022.”
Himalayan Spice, which opened in June of this year on Tennyson Street in Berkeley, says they are beginning to see regular customers and many new visitors. Himalayan Spice has faced some challenges this year. Ganesh Bhattarai said, “we have lots of to-go [orders] compared to the dine-in, but we are still pretty busy around dinner time.” They hope to expand their dine-in options for 2022.
The restaurant, which replaced Biju’s Little Curry Shop, started a bit slow while they waited for their liquor license, but now they are hitting their stride with signature dishes like chicken tikka and fish curry. A new year may bring new challenges, but Bhattarai says, “We are going to keep improving customer service and continue making good, quality food.”
Restaurant owners have had to make quick changes to maintain enough revenue to stay open. Creative, out-of-the-box thinking was needed to keep employees and patrons safe. They have implemented ways to attract customers, even when dining-in was not possible.
Gathering at local restaurants helps to improve North Denver’s economic advancement. Many people that work at local restaurants live in the same community. By visiting these restaurants, you are helping your local community flourish. Let’s wish all our restaurant neighbors a happy 2022.
Judy James-Anderson / December 31, 2021
Great story. I’m looking forward to checking out these local restaurants