After 10 months sitting vacant, the restaurant and bar space at 4132 West 38th Avenue is getting new life. Chef Brendon Doyle and business partner Bob Reiter are about to transform the former home of The Way Back, which closed there last August and reopened in February on Tennyson Street. At the 38th Avenue spot, the two partners are adding on a full kitchen and plan to open their new restaurant, American Elm, by late fall. Next month they’ll also debut a food truck, Kings County Kitchen, that will offer a glimpse of the larger project.
“To acquire space like that and then turn it into your own is always a challenge,” Doyle said. In just 15 months, The Way Back garnered a cult following in this low foot-traffic location between Berkeley and West Highland. Now Doyle hopes to create a long-lasting neighborhood staple there, with “sophisticated but approachable“ regional and comfort foods — smoked brisket wontons in a Korean bean broth, a roast chicken with Colorado grits and collard greens. He‘ll offer simply prepared vegetables and house cocktails, but also a vodka soda for anyone who asks. He looks up to old Denver restaurants like Mel‘s, which closed in Cherry Creek more than a decade ago: “In 50 years, if I have to shut down, I hope people are like, ‘That sucks.’”
Doyle is a Colorado native who started in Denver’s restaurant scene at the age of 15, got his first executive chef job at 24, and recently did a three-year stint in Brooklyn before moving back home. Six years ago, he helped local restaurateur Dan Landes revamp City O’ City. When Doyle returned to Denver from New York, he planned to partner with Landes again, this time to reopen the Campus Lounge. But he ended up backing out of that project because of a difference in vision. “I wanted to make sure an icon of our city continued on to the next generation,” he says now. The revamped Campus Lounge closed in March.
At American Elm, Doyle and Reiter are building a new 1,000-square-foot kitchen for the restaurant. They‘re repurposing The Way Back’s old kitchen, a mobile trailer, which will soon live at Declaration Brewing as a food truck. Designer Dana Ensing of Xan Creative is creating a lush, moody, and modern space between the bar, dining area, and outdoor patio. The name American Elm and its concept stem from a great, looming tree on the property, one that resisted disease decades ago and survived along with about 2 percent of its kind around Denver.
When he talks about the tree, the property, and his first restaurant, Doyle brings up the chefs that built this city’s food scene and the community of diners that still supports its growth. About cooking with a great ingredient or securing a great space, he says: “It’s kind of my job not to mess that up.”