Merlin Verrier is a man of mystical ideas. The esteemed culinary mastermind boasts a resume that will make your head spin. In addition to cooking a birthday dinner for former President Barack Obama while he was in office (in the presence of Oprah Winfrey herself) — Verrier has been a guest judge on MasterChef alongside Gordon Ramsey; helped celebrity chef, Graham Elliot, receive six Michelin stars within four years in his Chicago restaurant; served as culinary director of Lollapalooza for a decade; and even managed to make an impressive mark on Denver’s explosive culinary scene.
As far as Colorado endeavors are concerned — Verrier served as culinary director for Kimball Musk’s Next Door American eateries — participating in the expansion from three to eight locations during his time with the ethically sound concept. We may also thank Verrier for introducing Denver’s restaurant power couple — James Beard award-winning chef, Jen Jasinski and husband chef Max Mackissock — after delving into Denver’s budding restaurant renaissance when he took on a position at Jasinki’s Rioja in 2005.
Now — with 27 years of food service experience under his belt, Verrier is taking on a new, impassioned role as a trailblazer with tacos — among other things. Meet Street Feud — Verrier’s inspired street food concept. This new addition to Avanti Food & Beverage — Denver’s established collective eatery and restaurant incubator in LoHi — will feature a variety of street food options made with seasonable, sustainable ingredients. Expect steamed buns, lettuce wraps, tacos, fries, flatbreads, salads and quinoa bowls — all for under $15. Bold flavor combinations and an emphasis on accessibility will set this exciting new concept apart. Street Feud’s menu will offer something for guests with various palates and dietary restrictions. The vegan, gluten-free crispy mushroom taco ($4.95) with huitlacoche, beans, salsa rioja, cilantro and onions, vegan falafel flatbread ($9.50), or vegan Korean bbq jackfruit bao bun ($4) with jicama slaw and garden mint could appeal to plant-based diners and carnivores alike. Meanwhile, the sublime “K-Pop” cheese fries with kimchi, pork belly, green onion and lime crema is just one of the clever comfort food options with an undeniably addictive quality.
So — why street food? Growing up on the central coast of California from a mother born in Indonesia, Verrier was exposed to an array of ethnic cuisines. After experiencing a succession of successful culinary ventures across the country, Verrier found himself drawn to a different career trajectory. “My number one job is to be a dad,” said Verrier, as he described his transition from seeking Michelin stars to creating a cool, counter-service concept. Verrier also explained, “there is no out-game in world of fine dining.”After years of exposure to the mentally, physically and emotionally demanding orbit of striving for prosperity in hot kitchens and haute cuisine — Verrier recognized a desire for change on both a personal and universal level.
For Verrier, Street Feud in Avanti is simply the beginning. Not only has the seasoned chef gathered a plethora of business philosophies over the course of his career, Verrier has also managed to assemble a first-class team of other industry veterans boasting extensive experience in some of Denver’s most celebrated restaurants. When the desire to excel in fine dining, Merlin stated “we all put that job on a pedestal. Once we got up there we realized it isn’t all it was built up to be.” Furthermore, Verrier and Street Feud’s team of former-fine dining renegades are showcasing their skills in a casual setting while working in pursuit of a better workplace culture within the restaurant industry.
“We just want to make tacos and have fun,” said Verrier, who is implementing a structure to even the playing field with a work environment promoting equality and wellness. A tip share system and rotating role between working the cash register and cooking on the line is intended to solve the age-old issue of front and back of house disparity. Additionally, Verrier plans to ensure a work/life balance for his employees, maintaining reasonable work hours, giving his general manager mandatory mental health days and even offering his own ear to employees who may be experiencing personal struggles. “The goal of this concept is really to change the restaurant industry,” said Verrier, who has witnessed the detrimental effects of the food service industry lifestyle many times over. The idea is to invest in employees — paying attention to their welfare inside and outside of the kitchen, as opposed to the idea of every worker being deemed replaceable. Verrier is even planning annual trips for his team to visit different street food meccas, giving everyone the opportunity to “eat, touch, feel and see…cooking and collaborating in the moment.”
When it comes to the idea of Street Feud’s influence making moves on a larger scale, Verrier is already planning a fun brick and mortar location which he hopes to see through in the first quarter of 2020. Expect graffiti street art, a playlist comprised of 60-percent hip-hop and a refined beverage program with an equally exciting selection of non-alcoholic drinks such as Thai tea or horchata. Verrier also aspires to bring back mixtape culture by handing out different tapes instead of using a buzzer or having guests’ names called out in a counter service set-up. Ultimately, Verrier’s ambition is to open five brick and mortar Street Feud locations by 2021 before expanding the concept to a national level.
With an amazingly accessible, chef-driven street food menu and utilization of revolutionary ideas toward the betterment of the restaurant industry — this small yet distinctive concept may be one of Denver’s most welcomed additions to the restaurant scene in 2019.
Street Feud will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.