Feature

Dynamic Duos

Nine pairs of people who, through their unique partnerships—some romantic, some not—make Denver a more interesting, entertaining and welcoming place to live.

February 2014

The Gamers

Beer Lovers

Radio Heads

The Collaborators

Knot Tyers

Partners Against Crime

Two Cooks in the Kitchen

Park Hill Proprietors

Iron Couple

5280.com Exclusive: The Danseur and His Muse 

 

The Gamers
Broncos kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt are a team unto themselves.

Sports are full of successful pairings: athletes who make each other better simply by working together. Pitcher and catcher. Quarterback and wideout. Kicker and punter might not bea the most celebrated alliance in athletics, but for Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt, who for the past four years have handled the Broncos’ kicking duties with aplomb, the link is meaningful. Their successes—Prater set the team’s single-season scoring record for a kicker in 2012 and set the record for the longest field goal in NFL history this season; Colquitt set the franchise net punting record in ’12 and had a 38.8-yard average this past season—are derived from talent, practice, and each other.

Prater and Colquitt can clearly articulate what they respect about and learn from each other—through a healthy layer of sarcasm. “Britton is my holder,” Prater says, explaining he could choose whomever he wanted for the task. “He does a good job—he’s consistent—which makes it easier for me.”

“But he still threatens to replace me all the time,” Colquitt says with a laugh. “Jacob Tamme is my backup, and Matt’s always like, ‘Hey Tamme, get in here!’ ”

Joking aside, Prater says Colquitt helps him in less obvious ways, too. “I used to be more uptight on game days,” Prater admits, “but Britton’s pretty laid-back, which helps me go with the flow better.”

Games, however, happen only once a week. Long hours of practice have allowed Prater’s intensity to rub off on Colquitt. “It’s not a surprise Matt’s almost perfect on the year,” Colquitt says, “because he’s upset if he misses in practice.” After witnessing that perfectionism, Colquitt now finds himself irked when he shanks one at Dove Valley. More than anything, though, they most appreciate having someone else who understands what it’s like to be in a career for which “ice water in the veins” is part of the job description.

BroncosKickers

Beer Lovers
The duo behind one of the metro area’s newest taprooms fell head over heels for Colorado’s favorite beverage—and each other.

Eight years ago, Betty Fey wasn’t what you’d call a beer aficionado: Back then, she couldn’t tell an IPA from a Pilsner. Instead, she’d reach into her boyfriend’s fridge and grab whatever beer was available. That is, until the day Fey noticed a brew called Sweaty Betty sitting next to the Coors Light. Intrigued by the beer that shared her name, she took a swig—and loved it. The beer belonged to her boyfriend’s roommate, Danny Wang, who, after learning the pretty blonde enjoyed the brew, quietly made sure the fridge was always stocked with it. 

A few years later, Fey, who had long since broken up with that boyfriend, ran into Wang. The two struck up a conversation and soon began dating. “It was a little bit freaky,” says Betty Wang (she goes by her married name these days) of their quick reconnection. “The first week we were already finishing each other’s sentences.” They bonded over, among other things, beer. The couple toured the New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, and after indulging in a few samples, they locked eyes and shared one of their increasingly frequent “are-you-thinking-what-I’m-thinking” moments. We should open a brewery. 

Ironically, neither had ever brewed a batch of beer. He had an IT job, and she was in graduate school. But after purchasing a kit and teaching themselves, they focused on brewing, testing batches on nights and weekends. They fed off each other’s competitive spirits. “We’re both such narcissists,” Danny says with a laugh. “We were like: ‘We can do anything!’ ” They were right. In 2011, the pair opened Caution: Brewing in an office park in northeast Denver. This past December, they opened a second location in Lakewood and quit their day jobs. Their Lao Wang Lager is getting rave reviews, as is their Hippity Hops Chrysanthemum IPA. Still, every now and then, Wang slips a sixer of Sweaty Betty in the fridge for his wife. 

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Radio Heads
Alice 105.9 drive-time DJs Slacker and Steve have been happily finishing each other’s sentences for seven years.

5280: So how did you first get together?

Steve: He roofied me.

Slacker: That’s only half true. I was touring with a band, and we’d do interviews at radio stations. We were playing the Paramount with Dokken…

Steve: …rockin’ with Dokken!

Slacker: Steve was doing nights here at Alice…

Steve: [in mock-badass growl] …Alice Amplified—’80s cock rock.

Slacker: He interviewed me on-air, but I quit the band shortly thereafter. We became friends, and I quickly realized Steve had amazingly soft hands, which meant he’d never done an honest day’s work. That appealed to me, so he got me an internship…

Steve: …but then I left the station. Seven years later I was working in Detroit when Slacker lost his radio partner here at Alice. He called me and asked if I wanted to come back. I sat there struggling…Detroit…Denver…Detroit…Denver.

Slacker: As I was on the phone with him I heard tires screeching and said, “Wait, I didn’t mean now!”

5280:  The show’s subject matter varies; how do you decide what to talk about?

Slacker: We scour the Twitterverse and Facebook pages to see what everyone’s talking about. Then we meet before the show to figure out what to focus on.

Steve: Boom!

Slacker: Steve’s single with no kids, and I have a wife and a kid, so we look for things that appeal to both of us. If we get fired up and start yelling at each other, we know it’s interesting enough to go on the air.

5280: Was there a moment when you realized your show was taking off?

Steve: We’re still waiting.

Slacker: But we’d be doing this whether we got paid or not. We’d just be sitting in…

Steve: …a bar—or rehab…

Slacker: …or in the corner talking to ourselves, but this company is stupid enough to keep writing us paychecks and turning on the mics.

Steve: Amen.

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The Collaborators
Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door and Colorado Technology Association CEO Erik Mitisek share a passion for city building.

Some partnerships form more quickly than others. Two people feel a connection and—click—a bond is born. Such was the case when Tami Door and Erik Mitisek met more than two years ago during a business meeting. Twenty-four hours later, buoyed by a common ethos when it came to engaging entrepreneurs and elevating the city of Denver through collaborative partnerships, the pair embarked on a venture that, with the help of many others, would ultimately evolve into Denver Startup Week.

Today, Door and Mitisek, the CEOs of the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) and the Colorado Technology Association (CTA), respectively, are still involved in making Startup Week—which, with more than 5,500 attendees in 2013, became the largest event of its kind in the country—a long-term success. But that’s not their only project. These professional networkers move fast when they see a way to fuse digital integration with city building. “Startup Week has begun to change the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city of Denver,” Mitisek says. Which is why he believes the pair’s next endeavor—an entrepreneurial center at 1245 Champa Street set to open in 2014—is a wonderful opportunity for the Mile High City. “DDP, CTA, and the city will be creating a place for entrepreneurs with digital ideas to come together to catalyze their businesses,” Door says. “It’s excellent branding for the city.”

And that’s what it’s all about for Door and Mitisek: making a better Denver. Using what Mitisek calls Door’s thoughtfulness (“She has an ability to not only identify who will take part in a deal but to also understand who should be involved in a deal”) and riding high on what Door says is Mitisek’s optimism and confidence (“He doesn’t see obstacles; just the finish line”), this twosome appears to be in a position to do just that.

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Knot Tyers
Nine months ago, Anna and Fran Simon became the first Colorado couple granted a civil union.

5280: Describe the ceremony on May 1, 2013. 

Fran: We’d had a religious ceremony in 2005.

Anna: So, for this, we got to wear our dresses again!

Fran: For several years, we testified at all the hearings in the House and the Senate for the civil unions bills and experienced the emotional roller coaster when it was defeated in 2011 and 2012. We were elated for everyone who had worked so hard to make it happen now… 

Anna: …and so deeply grateful. 

Fran: At midnight we got the license in the county clerk’s office with lots of reporters. Then we walked out into the atrium and there were hundreds of people on multiple levels. It was overwhelming. I had no idea all those people would be there. Our wedding in 2005 was about us. This civil union was about everybody, the movement. There was so much love and support in the room. Then Mayor Michael Hancock officiated our ceremony. It was so powerful to hear the words…

Together: …“By the power vested in me by the state of Colorado!”

5280: And after the ceremony?

Fran: There was an incredible amount of media attention. Our picture was everywhere, from the Denver Post to Time to the Huffington Post. It’s like we’re celebrities, but we’re not. We’re just “Franna.” 

Anna: It’s not about us at all. We’re just a face on an issue. A lot of people can’t do that for myriad reasons. As parents, we don’t take lightly putting our family in the spotlight, but we think it’s important to show our son it’s important to stand up for what you believe in and what you know is right, and to play your part even if it’s a small part, which ours was. 

Fran: It’s part of “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that means “healing the world.” We’re trying to make it better for everyone, and especially for the next generation. 

brides

Credit: Makeup Artist Becky Laschanzky and Asset Makeup Nina Marie.

Partners Against Crime
Brett Titus of Metro SWAT/K-9 Unit and his partner, Vis, have worked together for nearly three years, apprehending dozens of suspects. Titus’ first book, about his first K-9 partner, Oscar, comes out this spring.

“I helped train dogs in the Air Force. When I got out of the military, I started to do competitions that consisted of tracking, protection, and obedience. Once I got on SWAT in 1999, I knew I wanted to be on the K-9 unit. My dog, Vis, is assigned to the SWAT team to search out bad guys. Behind doors. Hiding in dumpsters. These dogs can use their noses up to 500 times better than we can and smell odors a block away. So when we go look for bad guys, he’s the tip of the spear. A lot of people think we want an aggressive dog. We don’t. We want a Mother Nature–given drive we can use in training. We’ve made the training a game: Go find the bad guy and bite him until I tell you to let go. But there’s nothing malicious. It’s a game to him. Most of the time Vis is just a happy-go-lucky pup. When he’s at home, he’s just a pet. Despite his training, he’ll still get in the trash. But once I put the uniform on, he transforms. He’s very protective of me. If you were to come to my house, he’d love on you like any other pet. But when we come to the office, it’s different because he’s ready to work. During operations, I sometimes have to send him in to find people that could have guns—that’s what we call ‘the K-9 burden.’ If I send my dog in and he gets killed, it’s a bad day for me, for the other SWAT guys. These dogs are with us 24/7; they’re family. But a dog can be replaced. What can’t be replaced is the guys. It’s tough, but he’s still just a dog. That’s a hard thing to say, but that’s reality. And Vis never gets scared. Even yesterday, when he located a homicide suspect and hit him. The guy reached around and held Vis up, and Vis’ tail was still wagging. He was like, Woo-hoo, it’s going to be a fight!

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Two Cooks In The Kitchen
Yasmin Lozada-Hissom and John Broening, two of Denver’s most respected chefs, met at an interview at Udi’s, cooked side by side at Duo, got married, and ultimately reinvented Spuntino together.

5280: Did you cook on your first date?

John: On our first date we went to Boulder, and I locked my keys in the car. Yasmin opened the door with a hanger. I’m not a Mr. Fix It. 

Yasmin: The first time I cooked at John’s house, I was really surprised by
his kitchen.

John: Yasmin came to my place expecting I would have the tools of a chef. At that point, I never cooked at home. She had to improvise: She fashioned a cheese grater out of a tin can; she used a wine key to chop garlic; and she used my spare change basket as a strainer. 

Yasmin: My MacGyver skills resulted in a pretty nice orecchiette with
broccoli rabe, anchovies, and capers.

5280: Today, you co-own Spuntino, even as John is the executive chef at Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar. How do you juggle it all?

John: Yasmin mostly runs Spuntino. I give my guidance and opinions. 

Yasmin: We divide and conquer. It’s impossible for us both to lead. We each relinquish a bit of control, but I feel John’s presence here at Spuntino every day.

John: Yasmin is a perfectionist. When it’s not perfect, she suffers. I have high standards, but I can move on. It’s like the quote: “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

5280: How do you support each other in the high-pressure environment of restaurants?

John: As a chef, you need one person who is your taster. Yasmin could have been a nationally known savory chef. She has the knowledge, the palate, the understanding. She’s changed my style of cooking from French to Mediterranean with a dash of Peruvian.

Yasmin: We trust each other. When we give feedback, it’s brutally honest. But there’s no judgment.

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Park Hill Proprietors
Denver natives Maryellen and Jerry Spinelli have 27 years of marriage, terrific senses of humor, and a 20-year-old, iconic business between them.

5280: How did you meet—was it love at first sight?

Maryellen: We met on a blind date. My best friend was married to his best friend.

Jerry: We went to the Moulin Rouge room at the Fairmount. That was the end of January in 1986.

Maryellen: Then he asked me to go to lunch at Cliff Young’s—the fine-dining restaurant of the moment—on Valentine’s Day. I was working at a real estate company and my lunch was supposed to be an hour. When I got back to the office two and a half hours later, my co-workers looked at me and said, “Yes!”

5280: Jerry, you were in the nightclub business at the time; what prompted you to open a grocery?

Jerry: We traveled regularly to Manhattan and Brooklyn. While we were there we’d go to every market—Dean & DeLuca, Balducci’s—and we thought, “We could do this.” 

Maryellen: That was our Saturday outing in the city. We would go grocery shopping and then sit in Central Park. We’d eat what we bought and talk about whether we could open our own place in Denver.

Jerry: On August 12, 1994, we signed a lease. The Park Hill space has always been a grocery store. It was a convenience store then.

Maryellen: You had to have vision, though. I didn’t see the space until Labor Day. It was a hot day and the lights were off. There were bars on the windows. It was dirty. The candy was all melted. The food was spoiled. We had to throw everything out.

Jerry: We started with one lonely produce display and some sausages and cheese.

5280: Any words of wisdom about working with your spouse? 

Maryellen: We laugh a lot. There’s a separation of duties: He’s in the back, I’m up front, but we’ve got each other’s backs.

Jerry: You just need two words: “Yes, Dear.” 

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Iron Couple

Boulderites Mirinda Carfrae and Timothy O’Donnell are two of the top long-distance triathletes in the world. They just happen to be husband and wife, too.

Sometimes the laundry doesn’t get done in a timely manner at the Carfrae-O’Donnell household—and that’s OK. The professional triathletes—Mirinda Carfrae, 32, won her second Ironman World Championship in the women’s division this past year, and Timothy O’Donnell, 33,  placed fifth in the men’s division and was the top U.S. finisher—spend most of their time running, cycling, and swimming, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for chores. “We’re both competing at the highest level, and we’re both exhausted and just want to sit on the couch when we’re done training,” Carfrae says. “Sometimes we say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a wife, or a mother?!’ ”

Of course, the upsides to being married to someone who’s also consistently pushing his or her body to its physical limits far outweigh the downsides. They challenge each other through friendly competition (Carfrae’s marathon time at last year’s Ironman World Championship was 29 seconds faster than O’Donnell’s). And the two can truly understand the highs and lows each other encounters as they train and compete throughout the year. “This is a crazy lifestyle,” O’Donnell says. “We don’t have day jobs and weekends off—it’s pretty much seven days a week. So I can see how it would be really difficult if you had a spouse who wanted to get out and live life and do weekend trips to Napa.” 

Instead, the couple—who got hitched this past December in Tabernash, near Winter Park—plans vacations around races. And although Carfrae and O’Donnell just tied the knot, we think it’s fair to presume that their partnership might spawn a new adage about married life: The couple that trains—and competes—together, stays together. 

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The Danseur and His Muse

When you ask a pair of ballet dancers to describe their wedding day, you expect them to wax poetic about the first dance. Not Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay, founders of contemporary ballet company Wonderbound. At their Memphis wedding, the couple didn’t even have a first dance. “We just wanted to have all of our friends and family there and we didn’t want to overdo it,” Ammon, 36, says.

That laserlike focus on the important things has helped them become not only successful dancers, but also successful spouses. (The pair has been married now for 13 years.) Since they tied the knot, work and love have become eternally connected. Choreographers very frequently paired the two together and when Ammon began choreographing works himself, Fay, 45, was his muse. “We experience movement, dance, and space in very different ways,” Ammon says. “I think that’s what has allowed us to work so well with each other because we could bring those two perspectives together in a way that was unique.” In 2007, the couple moved to Denver and were hired by Ballet Nouveau Colorado (which they transformed into Wonderbound), a long-held dream come true that they say wouldn’t be possible without the trust and communication within their own relationship. “If you don’t have those things you might as well just call it,” Fay says—a truism for both home and work.

While being around one another 24/7 would annoy most couples, it’s the only existence Ammon and Fay know. And it works—most of the time—for them because they have different areas of concentration. While Ammon focuses on the minutiae and the big picture, Fay says she exists more in the middle ground.

So when doesn’t it work? Once in a while, they get frustrated with each other when their communication breaks down. And they both say it’s difficult to ever take a true break from work because, well, they live with their co-worker. In the end, Ammon says their varied outlooks—on what could be opportunities or how they view situations—are what keep their relationship vital: “By having those different perspectives we manage to avoid most pitfalls pretty well.” 

 

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—From top photographs by: Bryce Boyer, Aaron Colussi, Sean Hagwel, Matt Nager (2), Aaron Colussi, Rachel Levy, Aaron Colussi, Jeff Nelson, courtesy of Kristen Sink