Let’s talk about Colfax Avenue.
I’ve been on Colfax a lot lately; for my husband’s birthday, heading to doctor appointments, out perusing records (shout out to Twist and Shout on National Record Store Day 2018!), and to visit restaurants. Concerts at the Bluebird and Ogden theaters also often bring me to the neighborhood.
As for me, I love the sights and sounds of Colfax Ave. Just this week, I’ve seen two young guys in tie-dyed shirts handing out Voodoo donuts to homeless people. I’ve watched exuberant high schoolers headed back to school from lunch break. I’ve observed elderly couples enjoying lunch on their way to the local book shop. And I’ve watched parents with young kids chase their toddlers through a restaurant as they enjoyed a much-deserved brunch with mimosas and bloody Mary’s.
For Mark Whistler, owner of The Goods restaurant, these are daily sights and scenes.
Opened in August of 2016, Mark has been enjoying and feeding the community of Colfax and surrounding neighborhoods for some time. The Goods, located at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Elizabeth Street, is connected to the Tattered Cover bookstore just south of East High School. Of course, the food is excellent. They use local and organic ingredients for many of their dishes. In fact, they source some of their fresh ingredients from a hyper, hyper-local micro-farm, Bug Party Farms; it is located literally across the street from the restaurant. Their menu is varied, from hummus, to burgers, to banh mih’s, to brunch. They have a full bar and incredible desserts (I may have had flourless chocolate torte for brunch). I could go on and on – but you get the picture.
For some restauranteurs, good food would be the pinnacle; it would be the mission, the ending point, the place to reach and then rest on their proverbial laurels.
But for Mark and his business partner Charles H. Woolley, II, good food is just the foundation. The dream? Building a restaurant that serves as a community hub to the restaurant family of workers, as well as the public. Mark realized his vision during a sabbatical to Europe, where he walked nearly 600 miles through Spain. Through this journey, his next step became clear: he would open a restaurant. Yes, there were nay-sayers who warned him of the struggles and strife of restaurant life, but Mark was not dissuaded. “Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do it. I realize now those were their fears – not mine,” he remarks. Drawing on years of experience in the restaurant industry prior to his financial career, Mark returned home to Denver and opened The Goods within a month’s time.
How did Mark and his team build the restaurant to its current state? Mark shares, “It evolved on its own. What I love is that it’s truly a multi-pod. We don’t have uniforms. And we don’t cater to a specific type of person.”
The Goods is heavily involved in community outreach and non-profit causes. Each month, their restaurant serves as a base to feed the homeless. They partner heavily with East High School, and even have an East High School student gallery in their restaurant. On the calendar, they have fundraisers scheduled with the East High School Arts Walk, Denver Young Artists Orchestra, the Colorado Alzheimer’s Association, and Dash for Smiles.
Colfax Boulevard is the perfect location and a reflection of the cultural ideology The Goods perpetuates. “You can’t remove the craziness, and the chaos,” Mark reflects, “To have culture, you can’t remove the parts that are inconvenient. You have to love all of it.” They have a unique perspective due to their precise position on Colfax: The Goods sits at the four corners, the intersection, of Congress Park, City Park, Cheesman Park, and Uptown. “Greek Town” is their official neighborhood, Denver’s first ethnically designated neighborhood that sits in-between two major Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). But despite these delineations and boundaries, there’s one key element that connects them all: Colfax Avenue. “It’s like an artery running down the middle,” Mark states. We discussed gentrification, because really – what’s a conversation about Denver neighborhoods without discussing this topic? Mark Whistler thinks Colfax itself is gentrification resistant, and I’m sure you could find those who agree and disagree with him on that front. “The neighborhoods around Colfax may themselves change, we need to keep Colfax independent and limit the number of chains. I don’t think people realize how important it is,” he says. To Mark’s point, there are fortunately well-known East Colfax advocates like Don Novak, president of the Bluebird Business Improvement District and Frank Locantore, president of the Colfax Ave Business Improvement District, that are working daily to keep the Colfax Avenue vibe while progressing with rapidly changing times in Denver development.
In the meantime, Mark and his crew at The Goods does their part to support the diverse community and encourage the weird, gritty, and eclectic spirit of Colfax. I spoke with one of his cooks, Jordan, who brought me the vegan soup of the day. It was Jordan’s creation: a ginger-shitake mushroom-mizo soup. And it was delicious. Big chunks of bright orange carrot and hearty pieces of kale swam with whole shitake mushrooms in a deep brown broth. The vegetables where anything but uniform, and the colors contrasted brightly. Spicy, umami-rich broth left a warm tingle in my throat as I devoured it spoonful by spoonful. And I reflected that this soup is analogous for the Colfax that Whistler and others are trying so hard to keep alive. Colfax Avenue is an amalgam of wholly distinct and seemingly opposite people, thrown together, co-existing and cross-pollinating to create its own unique flavor that is anything but homogenous.
Mark, you have our salute. Keep up with the good work at The Goods.