“A really good deli is a gift to the neighborhood,” and that’s what Leven, one of Denver’s newest lunch spots, wants to be.
Potager alumni Luke Hendricks and Anthony Lygizos dreamed up the deli-restaurant that finds its home in the Golden Triangle neighborhood over lunch. The co-founders and partners craved a deli-style spot that offered cost-friendly food and a laid-back atmosphere they’d want to return to time and time again. They decided to partner and create the space they couldn’t find — an endeavor that soon became an opportunity to not only better their lives with a more family-friendly schedule, but those of the community as well by ameliorating the rising-costs of the Denver lunch game and industry employee pay.
It took more than two years and 47 serious attempts at signing a lease before the duo discovered the space on West 12th Avenue, previously home to an art gallery. The landlord surveyed the neighboring businesses about what they wanted, which solidified that a great lunch spot was needed.
The 2,500-square-foot airy space houses an indoor dining area, a lengthy wooden deli counter, two deli cases that will feature takeaway items sold by the pound such as rotating farmers salads and other deli items not found on the dining menu, and an open, street-facing cafe and bar. The outside of the space boasts a sidewalk patio that can seat up to 35 diners as well as a “bike-thru” window for cyclists to order breakfast to go from 7 to 10 a.m. during the work week.
When planning the menu, Hendricks and Lygizos asked themselves what and where they would want to eat if they were coming to the same spot seven days a week. The result was food that was not going drain their wallets or energy levels after a meal — deli-based food without high sugar, salt, and other preservatives.
The simple menu features nine specialty sandwiches, fresh salads, “tasty noshes,” breakfast burritos, and a variety of pastries. The food is “rooted in Jewish deli but it’s definitely California cooking,” Lygizos says of the cuisine, which focuses dominantly on Mediterranean flavor profiles that are zestier, brighter, and — like the definition of the restaurant’s namesake — brighter.
Hendricks says that the menu leans more toward vegetables with crunch than a traditional deli menu. Notable items include the classic pastrami with house-made, 12-day-aged pastrami (Hendricks spent the last year refining it), and Leven’s take on a classic grilled cheese that uses paprika cheese as an alternative. While Leven won’t be offering gluten-free bread options, all sandwiches can be “undone” and made into a salad instead.
On the beverage side, diners can order house-made sodas — ginger and pomegranate shrubs, teas, and sparkling lemonade — Huckleberry coffee, a small selection of wine and beer, and four batch cocktails.
It’s not just through food that the pair hopes to elevate things in the neighborhood. The duo is also trying to change how certain elements of the industry operate as well.
Lygizos and Hendricks aim to be fully transparent, starting with what goes into the food they’re serving and trickling down to the business side of things and how they pay their employees. Lygizos explained how this effort ties into another definition of the namesake of Leven, meaning “to improve or make better.”
For starters, the space features a kitchen with several open, deli-style windows that, according to Lygizos, allow the team to operate without any “smoke and mirrors” and let customers “look under the hood.” The team wants diners to know their servers and cooks while also being able to ask and see what’s going into their food.
“We’re an open book,” Lygizos said, who explained how their most significant and important cost is their employees. “We stand behind the people first idea […] if people are the most important resource in the restaurant, they should be the biggest cost.” Leven guarantees employees a starting pay of $15 an hour with the goal of paying all employees $20 an hour in the near future. That rate is uncommon in the industry. “It’s our honor to be able to change how the restaurant pays,” Lygizos says.
In the long term, the duo has plans to open seven delis within the next 10 years, as well as a bakery that will also serve as a commissary.
Status: Leven is now open and is located at 123 W. 12th Ave. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the bike-thru window open from 7 to 10 a.m. For more information, visit the website.