What Independent Dining Means to Denver | Interview with EatDenver Executive Director Adam Schlegel

All Photos from, From The Hip Photography

All Photos from, From The Hip Photography

To Denver dwellers our local dining scene is so much more than a place to grab a bite after work. Food brings people together, it differentiates us from other cities and it defines our culture. The Big Eat curated by EatDenver celebrates Denver's originality and growth while highlighting our local pioneers in the culinary field. Bringing together 50+ locally owned and operated restaurants is no easy feat... But, for EatDenver it's a labor of love and devotion to this great city we're all lucky enough to call home. Executive Director, Adam Schlegel is bursting with Denver pride and it's easy for us to see why. Over the past decade Denver has grown from a small awkward batch of Arby's and Chili's on the 16th Street Mall to a diverse and thriving dining scene scattered throughout multiple neighborhoods. The Big Eat is a representation of Denver, how far we've come and where we're headed... Join us in celebrating this amazing city next Thursday, July 14th from 6pm - 9pm at the DCPA. Tickets include unlimited food and booze from the best restaurants our fair city has to offer, purchase them here: http://eatdenver.com/the-big-eat-2016/

We had the opportunity to chat with Big Eat Executive Director Adam Schlegel about Denver pride and his go to restaurant choices for every occasion. 

We believe that community is what sets Denver apart from the bigger cities. Where did you get the idea to bring together 50+ restaurateurs and how did you make it a reality? 

EatDenver represents a tremendous community, over 130 locally owned, independent restaurants. The mere fact that an organization like this exists is a testament to our sense of community, of collaboration and working towards rising the tide. EatDenver began in 2007 when a group of local owners got together in discussing what works, what hurts, how to ensure our people realize the emergence of the Denver dining scene. Over the past ten years, our organization has developed to not only highlight this to everyone, but also create open dialogue and share experiences. We all have hard times finding enough staff, get into a jam with refrigerators that go out, or want to unite and discover better sustainability practices. Indeed the highlight of EatDenver now lies in the network, working with newbies to our forebearers in the restaurant industry to continue highlighting the importance of your locally owned, independently ran dining scene.

Restaurants are so often a part of community events, and it just so happens that those so often asked represent EatDenver. What could be better than working with our dynamic group and building towards a celebration of food, hospitality, drink and the essence of Denver? 

Denver’s recent surge in popularity has also sparked an uptake in our independent restaurant scene. We are seeing chefs who would have previously only worked in New York, Chicago and LA move to the Mile High. Why do you think these chefs are opting for a smaller city like Denver?

Denver feels like the land of opportunity. It represents this incredible lifestyle and ethic that work can fuel your passion. In Denver, you can create new, can find opportunities, and you’re constantly surrounded by an entrepreneurial and altruistic audience. It’s hard to make that splash in the bigger cities. There is a genuine belief, certainly in the many chefs and restaurateurs that I’m fortunate to work with, that Denver can and should be the next great city. The opportunity to have a hand in that is so exciting.

This is not a favorites game… but if you had to choose one Denver Big Eat restaurant for the following occasions which one would it be:

Ugh. Not my favorite game at all, and my role is a bit Switzerland. And since we have two little ones, dining isn’t as frequent as we’d like. That said, I’ll take roll call from my most recent endeavours:
Rooftop: Avanti. It’s just silly, and the bar team there is incredible.
Afterwork drinks: Ace. Especially in the summer. LowDown Brewery as well. And Vine St. I like to explore this category.
Adventurous cocktail: The Way Back. That Chad’s pretty good at his craft.
Date night: Our last date night was progressive, drink/app @ Vesta, my wife insists on always going to ChoLon, bite at The Kitchen, then to oysters @ Jax Downtown, finish up at Mercantile. 
Family dinner: Park Burger on Quebec is an absolute constant in our routine.
Vegetarian: Root Down.Brought some out of towners/vegetarians from Copenhagen here and it may have actually convinced them to move to Denver.
Creativity: Work & Class checks a lot of the boxes, but playfulness with adventure is definitely one of the standouts.
Atmosphere: Beatrice & Woodsley is one of my favorite spots to lose yourself. A whiskey cocktail at the bar and you feel like writing.
Dessert: dBar. Pretty sure this makes up all of the cake my family has eaten in the past 5 years.

 What do you think independent dining brings to a community? How can the impact of independent restaurateurs be measured? 

I often live in a bubble, but I honestly think it’s a driving force behind helping to create this world class city. It’s a testament to where you’ve been and where you are going. Food is culture, where folks meet, celebrate, and engage. And if I think of some of the most vibrant, creative, and impactful cities, independent dining and food show such deep roots. 

Independent restauranteurs are just like artists; the first into neighborhoods, to paint outside the lines, be bold and throw their heart & soul into work. The fact that Denver has so many distinct neighborhoods I think showcases the impact of restaurants who’ve helped pave teh way.

It also helps that it’s one of the first things future conventioneers enquire about, prospective companies relocating, or any traveler. We as a community truly need to work and embrace this culture, it will continue to develop Denver into a great city.

 What does this The Big Eat mean to you? What aftershock do you hope ripples through our community after attending? 

It’s a celebration, and an opportunity to ever enliven the discussion of how fortunate we are to be in Denver at this time. I love seeing so many talented folks enjoying, collaborating and toasting under such an iconic setting as the DCPA. 

I hope people walk away as excited as I am about where our food community has come, and where we are going. And the importance of supporting these artists and entrepreneurs, while realizing it’s the best means of a great time. Denver’s a special place to be.