Like many of us, it only took one trip to Colorado for Edward Oliver to fall in love and realize he had to move here. The only difference is that his epiphany was 112 years ago in 1906.
After traveling to Denver for a Knights of Columbus convention, Edward quit his job in Arlington, Virginia, and corralled his family onto a train bound for the Rocky Mountains. There was a lot at stake — Edward’s boss was so sure that he would fail that he purchased round-trip tickets for his entire family so they could return when they realized what a mistake they were making.
But, those return tickets were never stamped. Instead, Edward happily rooted his family in Colorado, eventually opening his own meat market in 1923. Now, 95 years later, Oliver’s Meat Market is still a Denver institution that’s still 100-percent family owned.
The Oliver Family
If you walk into Oliver’s Meat Market today, you’ll meet two of Edward’s great-grandsons — Jim and Richard Oliver.
“I started working here by seventh grade,” Jim said. “By 1978, about 40 years ago, I started working the counter, and I’ve never stopped.”
Jim traced the history for us — Edward worked at Oliver’s until he was well into his 90s. Then came his son, Dick, who took over when he returned from serving in the navy in the 1940s. After Dick came Jim’s father Berry, who had 11 children, including Jim and Richard.
Although the physical location of the business has moved a few times, it has stayed in the family and near the dedicated customer base. It started at 6th Avenue and Pearl Street, then moved five blocks down to 6th and Marion Street in 1939. Finally, in 2005, they relocated to their current spot at 1718 East 6th Avenue.
Jim heads to the market every morning at 6 a.m. to prep for the day, running the business with his brother Richard and one other full-time employee. He said he takes a full day off every 10 days or so, and when he’s not working, he likes to cook at home and keep up with the Rockies baseball games. Jim has four children of his own, and one son works in the shop occasionally.
“In a small business, everyone does everything,” he explained. “It’s hard to take a day off, but I like being here.”
Oliver’s Meat Market
Inside the market, you’ll find a meat lover’s paradise. Oliver’s carries fresh and frozen seafood, poultry, beef, veal, pork, sausage, lamb, stocks, bakery products, cheese and other gourmet grocery items and provisions.
“As the years have gone by, we’ve added selective grocery items,” Jim said. “We try to keep items that are unique, different and compliment the meat and seafood. You’re definitely not going to find Tide laundry detergent in here.”
The Oliver brothers source from a variety of places. The majority of lamb comes from western Colorado, pork comes from Brush, Colorado, and most beef is from eastern Colorado and western Nebraska. When it comes to beef, the brother’s prefer corn-fed.
“Corn-fed beef gets more marbling than grass-fed beef, and the marbling is what gives the beef its flavor,” they explain on their website. “The beef is dry aged for 14-21 days to naturally bring out the flavor of the meat and make it extra tender.”
Of all of the moving parts that are required to run the meat market, Jim said his favorite part is interacting with the customers.
“I like talking to people and steering them in the right direction. So many people find recipes or whatever online but don’t know what to do. I like helping them with that.”
An avid home cook himself, Jim even posts photos of what he’s making with their products at home on Oliver’s Facebook page. Most recently, it was his Easter supper — a rack of lamb with a rosemary mustard crust with asparagus and sweet potatoes.
“We love helping people figure out what to make,” Jim explained. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions — that what we’re here for. The way I look at it is, if I don’t know how to cook something, I really shouldn’t be selling it. So we’re here to guide people. We want to help people succeed in their cooking, I think we do a pretty good job of it.”
A “pretty good job” is a pretty modest way to describe a business that’s stayed afloat for almost 100 years, but that humbleness is just part of who Jim is.
“I guess we must be doing something right,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go, but we just focus on doing what we know and doing it the right way. There’s always going to be the newest and hottest trend, but most of the time that’s all that it is. They’re here today and gone tomorrow.”
Oliver’s Meat Market clearly has the kind of staying power that will never be defined by trends. And that became even more clear as we left the store after our chat.
While looking at the selection of homemade stocks that he sells in the refrigerator by the door, I turned and said, “You know if you called these stocks ‘bone broth’ you could sell them for double the price?”
“I know,” he said, laughing. “But that’s just not how we do things around here.”
Oliver’s Meat Market is located at 1718 East 6th Avenue, Denver. It is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
All photography by Amanda Piela.