As the coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate restaurant closings across Denver, part of the city that has long been considered a top eatery in particular could become a culinary wasteland.
“There’s no office traffic, no business travel, no tourism, and no hotels, and unfortunately most local customers seem to be avoiding downtown,” said Josh Wolkon, who on Thursday announced the final closure of his restaurant Vesta, which opened in 1997 on Blake Street .
Vesta is joining other recently closed restaurants nearby such as 20th Street Cafe, Morton’s, The Market, and Euclid Hall, all of which closed their doors during the pandemic.
Formerly known as Vesta Dipping Grill, the restaurant had evolved over the past 23 years from a concept revolving around homemade dips and sauces to a farm-to-table setting for the 21st century.
Andy Cross, the Denver Post
The Vesta server Kye Larsen cleans glassware in preparation for dinner on July 19, 2018.
Some of Denver’s better-known chefs have cut their teeth at Vesta, including the late Brandon Foster, who worked his way up to head chef on Blake Street for over a decade before heading the kitchen at Project Angel Heart.
Foster suddenly died of a fit earlier this month, a moment Wolkon said was the lowest point for him and his rotating restaurants.
“Not being able to gather at Vesta, hug, and be together in a situation like this was also very difficult,” Wolkon said. “(Brandon) really contributed to the transition between the Vesta of the past and the Vesta of the present.”
For more than the past few months Wolkon has been wondering what to do with the future of his oldest concept.
Wolkon is the founder of Secret Sauce, a group that includes Steuben’s, Ace Eat Serve, and Vesta. He said the decision to shut down the flagship was a matter of choosing where to put his team’s resources now among the three concepts and four restaurants in total.
“Before COVID (-19) I asked myself: ‘What should I do? ‘Wolkon said about Vesta’s future. “And then it happened …”
“This” refers to the pandemic of closing Colorado restaurants for personal dining for 10 weeks at the start of their busy season, followed by a rush to reopen with outdoor seating and reduced capacity last month.
Wolkon has continued to run its neighboring restaurants on 17th Avenue – Steuben’s and Ace – with their easy-to-use menus and expansive outdoor patio, but decided to keep its restaurants downtown and in Arvada closed.
He owns the property under Steubens Arvada, so that was an easier decision. With Vesta, Wolkon still had two years to complete his lease and also questioned the company’s profitability.
“Before (the pandemic), high-end full service dining was at risk or under threat,” he said. “We’re at this weird breaking point with costs where you just can’t calculate enough.”
Andy Cross, the Denver Post
Vesta server Kye Larsen is preparing cutlery for dinner on July 19, 2018.
While uptown restaurants are doing fine now, relying mostly on alfresco and take-out meals, Wolkon said he wanted to hope for concepts like Vesta “on the other side” of the coronavirus.
“Maybe because of this (pandemic) people will appreciate how special it is to go to a restaurant like Vesta, how good it feels,” he said.
To honor the restaurant and its late chef in a contemporary way, Wolkon and his team are holding a fundraiser for Foster’s family from August 8th to 9th. They sell charcuterie (a menu item that Foster advertised at Vesta) on souvenir chopping boards labeled “Be like Brandon”. They will also sell the restaurant’s remaining wine collection.
“We can’t throw a party, we can’t have everyone come to Vesta for one last meal,” said Wolkon. “In a little way … it just feels like an appropriate goodbye.”
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