It’s been more than 500 days since the coronavirus pandemic first shut down Denver neighborhoods and the restaurants within them. But by the end of July, the energy in one particularly tight-knit community was palpable once again.
Last Friday night, the seven-piece band playing at MBP (Moods. Beats. Potions.) could be heard all down the Welton Street corridor between 28th and 29th streets. On down to 27th, the team at Welton Street Cafe was preparing comfort foods to-go and getting ready to reopen their community dining room after 16 months.
The cafe’s new courtyard neighbor, Agave Shore, slung street tacos and tequila drinks late into the night, while recently reopened Sherry’s Soda Shoppe served scoops and floats for folks after the dinner rush.
“Whatever vibe you’re looking for, these restaurants will hopefully complement (one another),” Fathima Dickerson, co-owner of Welton Street Cafe, said of her fellow Five Points businesses. “We all have a different vibe, but we’re here to provide something unique and different so that people have a reason to come back and to keep coming back.”
For Dickerson, the reopening of her family’s two-decade-old community gathering space has been months in the making. A year after the first COVID-19 restaurant shutdowns, they had to overhaul the kitchen’s HVAC and fix a broken elevator that allowed for ADA restroom access.
That last fix happened a week and a half ago, Dickerson explained.
“We’ve missed our community… so we’re going to figure it out,” she said of getting a restaurant that “still needs a lot of tender love and care” back open to indoor dining.
In the meantime, Dickerson has had a chance to visit MBP, the Welton corridor’s new dinner and cocktail spot, as well as its sister brunch destination, 10-month-old Mimosas, nearby.
“Those places look beautiful,” she said. And Mimosas, especially, is close to her heart; the location was Welton Street Cafe’s previous address, where Dickerson remembers growing up.
For Ryan Cobbins, owner of 11-year-old Coffee at The Point and president of operations for Pure Hospitality, which runs Mimosas and MBP, the goal now “is to get concepts in these open (Welton Street) storefronts, and then to support other small businesses in the neighborhood,” he said.
New this summer, MBP is Pure Hospitality’s second restaurant opening of the past year (after Mimosas), and Cobbins said it’s bringing a “true, artisan dinner” spot to Five Points.
“A great sit-down dinner, to be able to meet and be seen by other people in the community,” Cobbins explained. “The idea is to create an experience where you flow through the space … enter and enjoy a great cocktail, transition to your seat for dinner, and then maybe for dessert on the patio. We’re also providing opportunities for local musical artists to come through and perform and entertain folks.”
The Hendersons performance on Friday night made dinner a full-on event. Their sound brought passers by from the street to the bar, dining room and patio, which were all full by 7 p.m. For now, MBP is only serving weekend dinners as more staff are hired and trained, Cobbins explained.
Chef Corey Smith is turning out plates of summer succotash ($20), crispy jerk chicken ($24) and blackened red snapper ($32) alongside the bar team’s Welton 75s (Hennessy, gin, lemon, simple syrup and Prosecco, $12) and Watermelon Sugar Highs (mezcal, watermelon, lime, ginger beer, $13).
MBP eventually will be fully up and running more nights of the week. But Cobbins and the Five Points Business Improvement District are also busy working to open the Welton Street corridor even more to the public by end of summer.
Come September, patrons in the district should notice a new pedestrian plaza with tables and chairs, shade and plant life at the heart of Five Points at Welton and 26th Avenue. Then, North Clarkson Street will close to through-traffic, becoming a pedestrian extension for the Welton Street Plaza as well as surrounding businesses.
“The goal is by the end of August or September, you’ll see some great transformations in the neighborhood,” Cobbins said.
He envisions alleyway dining, but also outdoor yoga, farmers markets, live entertainment and a kids’ play area. A common alcohol consumption area is also in the works.
“One of the things I want to make sure we continue is to tell the story about our neighborhood and where we’ve been. And it’s not just a story of where we’ve been, but where we’re going as well,” Cobbins added.
Amid the many changes, Dickerson and her family are taking their seat at the table, too, hoping to be an integral part of their community for years to come.
“How do we work together moving forward?” Dickerson asked of her neighborhood’s transforming restaurant scene.
“I’m kind of nervous,” she added ahead of reopening the Cafe on Tuesday. “Are we going to have any customers? Are we going to have a line out the door? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m excited to (move past) just ‘hi’ and ‘bye,’” and the less meaningful interactions of the pandemic.
The cafe’s role in Five Points has always been as a safe space for gathering and just being, Dickerson said, and in order to keep it that way, she’s not planning on changing much for now, other than what’s broken.
“To stay a while longer,” she said, “I’m happy for that.”
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