Owners of WaterCourse, City O’ City buy the restaurants’ real estate for $6M

Dan Landes has officially washed his hands of his former vegetarian eateries.

This month, the former owner of WaterCourse Foods and City O’ City sold the real estate the restaurants occupy to new owners Lauren Roberts, her mom Jennifer Byers and her sister Hannah Kuehl.

Roberts, Byers and Kuehl purchased WaterCourse from Landes in 2015, and City O’ City and the adjacent Make Believe Bakery in 2018. But Landes remained their landlord until the latest deal.

“With these properties on their balance sheet, the new owners can swing hard for the fences because of this equity,” Landes told BusinessDen. “I’m not swinging for the fences anymore, so I felt this was a good opportunity to put it in the hands of people that cherish the business. And it was the right market to sell in.”

Landes opened WaterCourse and City O’ City in 1998. Make Believe Bakery opened in 2016.

Landes paid $975,000 for WaterCourse’s 4,579-square-foot unit at 837 E. 17th Ave. in Uptown in 2006, records show. Five years later, in 2011, he paid $1.8 million for the 15,677-square-foot building at 206 E. 13th Ave. that City O’City shares with Make Believe and a couple other businesses.

He sold the properties for $2 million and $4.2 million on Feb. 1, records show. NAI Shames Makovsky’s Todd Snyder represented Landes in both deals.

Roberts and her mom originally wanted to open a small grocery store focused on natural foods, but she took a job at City O’ City in 2013 when an effort to secure space for that business fell through.

“I decided to get a job while we looked for a new space, so I didn’t spend all the money we saved,” Roberts said. “City O’ City was hiring, and I loved the restaurant as a patron. About three months into my job as manager, Dan started talking to me about selling WaterCourse, and we realized that this was our next move.”

The sale of City O’City came three years later. Landes said he got out of the restaurant business because his stress levels were too high and “I was no longer having fun.”

“I was on the precipice of early-onset geriatric disease, and that was not how this guy was going down. So, I had to get out,” he said.

With the businesses sold, Landes said he formally offered the new owners the opportunity to buy the real estate last October, after talking informally about such a deal for a long time. Roberts and her family secured a loan to purchase the properties.

“As a business owner, if you’re paying rent to somebody having a healthy relationship is important. So, when it’s yourself, that alleviates a lot of stress in terms of questioning someone’s motivation or if a pandemic comes up,” Roberts said.

Roberts, her mom and sister plan to renovate the City O’ City building, restoring the original 1930s ceiling and fixtures. They also plan to update the building’s HVAC and electrical systems.

For WaterCourse, they want to make a long-term investment in the building’s efficiency. Roberts and her family are in the process of getting bids to go all-electric for the kitchen and retrofitting the space to focus on sustainable and renewable energy.

“We’re just trying to maintain the beautiful thing that these businesses are, and there’s not a lot you have to do to it,” Roberts said. “We want to carry on Dan’s legacy of creating a gathering space for people and elevate the quality of care of the spaces.”

Landes said he loves seeing the restaurants he founded still going strong.

“It feels wonderful to have created something from passion, creativity and teamwork that is still around and has that kind of longevity,” he said. “Is there a better indicator of success than that?”

And Landes and the restaurants’ new owners still have one business relationship. Landes and business partner David Rouse own Off the Bottle Refill Shop, which operates in the City O’City building, meaning he is now their tenant.

Landes and Rouse also own a small hotel in Mexico called Osa Mariposa. He said he has no plans to get back into the restaurant industry in Denver in the near future, since he’s looking to buy a home in New Mexico.

“I want to be in darker sky country,” he said.

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