Food halls/markets are a familiar sight in metro Denver these days, with the Source, Avanti Food & Beverage, Denver Central Market, and Stanley Marketplace all opening over the past few years; Zeppelin Station is also set to enter the scene in December. But when Denver Milk Market debuts in LoDo’s Dairy Block development next summer, it will feature one major difference: Every food concept in the approximately 15,000-square-foot venue will be the brainchild of one chef: Frank Bonanno.
“It’s kind of the way dining is going,” he says of the market trend. “It’s a fun way for people to go out; there’s something for everybody.” That’s certainly the plan at Milk Market, which was inspired, in large part, by Eataly, New York City’s famed Italian marketplace. Bonanno, the chef-owner behind 10 Denver restaurants (including Mizuna, Bones, Salt & Grinder, and the new French 75), and his company, Bonanno Concepts, are planning 14 restaurants and bars for the first-floor space. The concepts pull from styles, cuisines, and dishes Bonanno fans will be familiar with, such as Bao Chica Bao (Asian bao buns), Lou’s Hot & Naked (serving the fried chicken the now-shuttered Lou’s Food Bar was slinging in Sunnyside), S&G Salumeria, and Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria. There will also be pasta, pastries, gelato, crêpes, poké, a butchery, and a seafood spot named for Bonanno’s grandmother. And—and!—Bonanno and team will also operate Engine Room Pizza, a by-the-slice eatery inspired by Bonanno’s early jobs making pizza. “We’re going back and doing things that I’m super comfortable with—that our group is super comfortable with,” Bonanno says. “That’s what makes this [project] attainable.”
Each concept will have bar seating, and there will be table service, albeit with a limited menu; including the common areas, Milk Market will offer around 350 seats.
But it’s not just about dining on site. Bonanno wants Denver Milk Market to be just that—a market. Patrons will be able to pick up prepared meals or ready-to-cook items such as fresh or dried pasta, sausages, and meatballs. An online ordering system is being developed so workers in the area can simply pop in and pick up their lunch or a snack. At least two of the concepts will offer window service onto the Dairy Block alley. (The Dairy Block is a mixed-use development in the historic Denver Windsor Dairy Block on Wazee Street, between 18th and 19th streets; it opened in March and is home to Poka Lola Social Club, Kachina Southwestern Grill, and the Maven Hotel.)
In addition, Adam Hodak and Austin Carson will oversee the beverage program for the market, which includes a Colorado-focused tap room, a wine bar featuring vino on tap, a main bar, and drink options at the various eateries. Bonanno hopes that eventually the Dairy Block can attain a common-consumption liquor license, which would allow patrons—and their drinks—to travel freely between the market and the building’s other establishments.
The space will be open 18 hours a day, with a few of the venues serving in the morning and all 14 up and running by 11 a.m. Various other programming, from sunrise yoga to happy hour cooking classes, are also in the works.
Running the market will require around 200 employees, a tall order given the current labor shortages in Denver’s restaurant industry. “I’m a little concerned about that,” Bonanno says, but adds that he’s optimistic after staffing two-month-old French 75. “[Staffing is] always a concern, but I feel if you’re a good employer, people will want to work with you, not for you. If your company is good and you’re teaching and educating people, you’ll find good people.”
Denver Milk Market is being developed by Sage Hospitality in conjunction with McWhinney and Grand American. The Sage team approached Bonanno and his wife, Jacqueline, about the opportunity. The idea of having a market operated entirely by the same team appealed for logistical and business reasons. “Frank has, over the years, shown a really wonderful breadth and ability to do a number of different things across the board. We thought his organization had the firepower,” says Peter Karpinski, co-founder of Sage Restaurant Group and partner at Sage Hospitality. “With a space like that, you get a lot of efficiencies from a structural and cost and profitability perspective if you can do it under one umbrella. And we knew [Bonanno] was dabbling with some ideas of what he wanted to do next.”
Dabbling may be putting it lightly: Bonanno has been tossing around the market concept for years. He and Jacqueline pitched a smaller version of Milk Market to Larimer Square for the space where Ocean Prime now sits (the restaurant opened in 2011), but they couldn’t make it work.
Time will tell what all those years of thinking and tinkering will bring when Denver Milk Market opens early next summer.