The Butcher Block Cafe is a humble diner located at the corner of 38th and Wynkoop streets—just a few blocks away from where protesters recently gathered to protest Ink Coffee’s pro-gentrification sign in Five Points. Unlike the neighborhoods surrounding it, however, this homegrown respite hasn’t changed much since brothers Fred, Kurt, and Mickey Michel opened this location in 1995. (The original Butcher Block was founded on nearby Washington Street in 1979.) Neither have the heaping breakfast combos, the massive burgers, or the scratch-baked cinnamon rolls. We caught up with the Butcher Block’s co-owner and chef, Mickey Michel, to talk about how this long-time Elyria-Swansea business is weathering Denver’s rapid development.
5280: We just want to start by thanking you for your food—especially the cinnamon rolls.
Mickey Michel: It’s nothing fancy. We—Fred, Kurt, and I—were born and raised on a farm in North Dakota, and my mom could make anything taste good. We just tried to bring that simplicity here.
What made you choose Elyria-Swansea as a location for the Butcher Block?
MM: We always opened up restaurants in the warehouse districts or industrial parts of town because we look for a working class clientele. And all of our locations—we had one on 25th and Broadway, and our first one was on 50th and Washington—were former restaurants, too, so we would just move in and take over. Here [in Elyria-Swansea], we own the land and the building, which has allowed us to keep our food affordable.
Has your clientele changed with the rapid growth in this part of town?
MM: We still get all sorts of people. When this kind of change happens—the warehouse district gets pushed out, and the artsy guys have to move on because it’s not affordable—we wondered where our customers were going come from. But there are a lot of diners on the East Coast and Midwest, so we’ve gotten a lot of folks from out there who love this place because it reminds them of home. And because it’s affordable. Look, we don’t drive Mercedes; we drive Ford F-150s. We want to serve everybody. We still get families who come in with eight or 10 people, you know, extended family and whatnot, to have breakfast—and that makes us feel good. This neighborhood has been good to us.
Obviously you’ve been here long enough to notice the neighborhood change. What’s your take on all the development?
MM: I’m glad the train station went in here. That was a blessing for us. But we’ve also had rising costs. Our property taxes have doubled twice since we moved into this place. We kind of knew that would happen, though, and were able to plan for it.
What did you think of the Ink Coffee sign debacle?
MM: There are some of these folks who think that they are saving a neighborhood, and they don’t understand that people have lived here. They want to rename things and call it RiNo. I’m part of Elyria-Swansea. We’ve been here forever, and we’re here to service the neighborhood that’s been here forever. Those who have been here forever and feel like they’re being pushed out—they’re the ones who took offense to [the sign], and I understand that.
What does the future hold for the Butcher Block Cafe?
MM: We’ve never changed, and we’re not gonna change. You have to hope that new customers and new residences are happy with what you’re doing. We’re not going to reinvent ourselves to fit in with the neighborhood. We want them to understand that we’ve done this for 37 years. We’re just a mom and pop place, and these kinds of diners—really, since the ’30s—have been gathering places. That’s what we’ll continue to be.
1701 38th St., 303-295-2915