What: All-day restaurant, bakery, marketplace bar and music venue with an ambitious mission.
Where: 3040 Blake St, Denver
When: Tuesday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 10pm, Friday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 11 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday
When the Preservery opens in RiNo tonight, it embarks on a mission to merge food, community and music through social enterprise. Housed in a 2,600-square-foot space in Backyard on Blake—the commercial development from investor Fiona Arnold—the all-day restaurant, bakery, marketplace, bar and music venue has ambitious goals that go well beyond the idea of providing guests with a wholesome meal and accompanying live music. However, given the neighborhood’s unshakable momentum, and Backyard on Blake’s progressive spirit, it’s not a stretch to say that this concept might just work out.
Since they met in 2000, husband-wife owners Obe Ariss, business director and music coordinator, and Whitney Ariss, culinary director, had always shared a dream of operating a business together. Over the years, this was consistently put on hold: Obe earned his doctorate in piano performance from CU Boulder and began working in nonprofit development at the Colorado Symphony; Whitney held a variety of positions in the food industry, including buying roles for Marcyzk and Whole Foods, where she was introduced to local purveyors.
It wasn’t until two years ago that the idea resurfaced. The two had originally envisioned a small-scale, marketplace-deli hybrid with an emphasis on local products and house-made bread. While the Preservery does include an in-house bakery that focuses on naturally leavened products, it has embraced a larger idea of highlighting scratch-made food made with “storied ingredients.” In addition to carrying local products in its marketplace and utilizing local purveyors on the menu when possible, the Preservery has intentions to build its in-house programs.
“It’s important to all of us as an organization to raise the standard and try to be game-changers,” said Whitney. “We don’t want to buy ingredients that we don’t feel good about. Why are we doing this otherwise?”
The restaurant currently offers several house-made products including ricotta, jams and Cracker Jack-style cracklins. However, thanks to a determined kitchen staff led by chef de cuisine Brendan Russell—whose resume includes Frasca and ChoLon—this programs could grow exponentially. And because of the space’s well-equipped facility, which includes a dehydrator, freezer walk-in and additional walk-in, the Preservery can feasibly handle expansion.
“As soon as seasonal abundances become available, we have the ability to purchase more because we’re not just incorporating it fresh into the menu,” explained Whitney. “We have all these preservation techniques we can apply so we can create our own year-round supply chain of local foods.”
The couple’s music, nonprofit and industry backgrounds and a first-hand account of New Orleans’ food, music and community-driven spirit informed the Preservery’s multifaceted approach. Additionally, Zingerman’s Delicattessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan—the Jewish deli that’s since evolved into a network of small entrepreneurial endeavors—was equally influential. Much like Zingerman’s, the owners discuss the possibility of providing services to employees that would allow business ventures to flourish under the Preservery umbrella.
The couple admits this growth will be organic. “We have these ideas—bakery, [canned] product-line—but have no commitment to any of them,” said Whitney. “We want this business to be an incubator for entrepreneurs, and a facilitator for that start-up mentality.” For now, the Arisses have challenged conventional restaurant structure by abolishing tips and creating positions that encourage mobility. Growth within the company is contingent on individual employees. “It has to be initiated by someone internally,” explained Whitney. “They have to have that drive for whatever it is they want to accomplish.”
In addition to its growth model, the Preservery has ambitious plans to develop a variety of programs, including education sessions, speaker series’ and pairing events. A patio and adjacent backyard community space—which includes a rooftop garden with two raised beds—only increase its opportunities.
For now, however, the Preservery is starting small. Tonight, from 6-9 p.m., guests can get a sample of the concept’s dinner, bar and live music programs. Next week, the Preservery will begin full-time hours, with breakfast starting on Tuesday, April 5 at 9 a.m. and lunch at 11 a.m.
All photography by Meg O’Neill