On March 1, OPEN launched in the kitchen of American Bonded, replacing Kitsune as the in-house food purveyor. At its core, the new sandwich shop is a collaboration between front-of-house and conceptual mastermind Jake Riederer and chef-owner John Chavez. The kitchen — situated under the duo’s vivid neon logo — serves a potent menu of six sandwiches, with five of the recipes coming from chefs and restaurateurs across the city. The sixth is Chavez’s own creation. Beyond the inherent quality of each of the menu items, Riederer and Chavez are donating $1 from each one sold to Project Angel Heart. “We’re just trying to be the kind of place where we can do the right thing and be kind. Eat well, do good,” smiled Riederer. The name itself came from a Riederer’s initial desire to do open-faced sammies, though has since mostly made for a difficult Google search.
Both proprietors are industry vets, each having worked across restaurants for well over a decade. Chavez grew up in Los Angeles before relocating to Castle Rock at 11. He’s been cooking in Denver since 2011, most recently with a stint at Tavernetta. Prior to that he also worked at Work + Class and Atomic Cowboy, where he and Riederer first met. Riederer grew up in Boulder where he worked at Sushi Tora before being poached for a five-year run at the Atomic Cowboy by owner Drew Shader, who was a regular at the establishment. He followed with another five years at Work + Class before opening Super Mega Bien. Most recently he spent nearly a year with Postino.
The roster of involved chefs is almost intimidating in its accumulated talent. Jeff Osaka of Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama, Cliff Blauvelt, the culinary director of Tap and Burger Concepts, Work + Class and Super Mega Bien‘s Dana Rodriguez, Uncle and Hop Alley’s Tommy Lee and Toru Watanabe — a long time Denver chef who prefers to be shrouded in secrecy — all gave a recipe. “A lot of them I worked for, or with, or around,” said Riederer. “I knew I could call in a favor from each of them and it wouldn’t be too heavy a lift,” he continued. The connections run deep — Riederer’s wife Cecilia Jones being a manager at Uncle Wash Park.
While there have been varying degrees of involvement from each contributor, the sandwiches are excellent reflections of the involved personalities. Each one seems like a logical extension of their established aesthetic, though under Chavez’s stewardship the menu feels succinct. And even though the chefs aren’t routinely in the kitchen, each has continued to participate, with Lee running side-by-side taste tests, Blauvelt stopping in to help prep and Osaka lending sage advice on pickle sourcing.
It should come as no surprise that each sandwich is named after the chef who crafted it. All coming in at $15, The Toru is a classic Japanese snacking sandwich with Buckner Family Ranch pork cutlet, cabbage and katsu sauce on shokupan from The Enchanted Oven in Broomfield. The Osaka takes thicker slices of the same shokupan and layers them with expertly-breaded karaage, spicy mayo, ginger-sesame slaw and Japanese pickles. The Rodriguez is stacked high with dense cochinita pibil, cabbage, pickled red onions and house-made habanero salsa — an addition Chavez made during recipe testing. The Blauvelt comes with ketchup and kimchi-laced meatloaf, bacon and Coors Banquet braised collard greens, Jarlsberg cheese, crispy onions and mayo. The Chavez is a chile relleno cemita with asadero and potato-stuffed poblano, iceberg lettuce, avocado, sweet chipotle sauce and Oaxaca cheese. The Lee is a Sichuan short rib sandwich with red wine sesame mayo, white onion and what may very well be the best jus the city has ever produced — the bright red concoction having all the delightful numbing sensation of some of the cuisine’s finest dishes.
Everything about the restaurant is a family affair — from the art and logo coming from Riederer’s brother Christopher to the curtains being hand-sewn by his mother. The place’s entire vision — one that positions the city’s cooking community as a familial and unified front — might even be more cheerful. “The only thing on the menu that is mine is the cookies. The lemon bars are my father-in-law’s,” he smiled.
OPEN has been off to a good start and Riederer says the plan is to remain at American Bonded in perpetuity. “I feel cradled by the universe. Everything has been coming together to prop us up,” smiled Riederer. One bite of any of the sandwiches and that cosmic alignment is hard to miss.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.