Bryan Dayton has been dreaming of his own restaurant group for a decade. And as of today, it’s official: Dayton has established Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality (HECH) and shared with 5280 plans for a refresh at Acorn and new projects too.
With chefs Steve Redzikowski (Oak at Fourteenth), Ian Palazzola (Acorn), Amos Watts (Corrida), and Chase Devitt (Brider) settled into their positions at their respective restaurants, Dayton is prepared to take on the role of restaurateur at HECH, managing operations and overseeing the growth of the portfolio.
“The name of the group came from Brider’s opening, when I was on a mission to do the best chocolate chip cookie in the city,” Dayton says. “I would bring in cookies from everywhere and we would try them and analyze them. I’d only eat half of a cookie though, trying to be reasonable with my waistline, and the team would make fun of me for it.” Playing off the joke, Dayton realized he’d found the name for his burgeoning group. But the philosophy behind the name is about more than just cookies. “It’s about always being conscious,” he says, “and taking half of what you need. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
That said, HECH is moving forward in a thoughtful way. To start, Acorn is getting a cosmetic refresh, increasing its bar footprint, and expanding into the adjacent former Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe space inside the Source (which is undergoing a pretty big renovation and brand evolution itself). Part of the butcher shop’s glass-windowed walk-in cooler will be transformed into a gleaming, temperature-controlled wine wall that will open onto a renovated stairway leading to the second floor dining mezzanine.
Dayton and wine director Jenica Flippo are working to stock the wall with 51 percent American vinos from up-and-coming areas such as the Finger Lakes in New York State, and, of course, Colorado; Minturn’s Monkshood Cellars is just one of the local labels you can expect to find on the wine list at Acorn post-renovation. The list’s other 49 percent will focus on older vintages from both the New and Old Worlds.
The remainder of the butcher’s cooler will evolve into an expanded open kitchen and a dry-aging room for which Palazzola has grand ambitions. “The new space will allow us to be more efficient, get cooler products in, and bring more excitement to Acorn’s menu,” Palazzola says. A fan of fowl, he plans to age everything from whole chickens and ducks to pheasants and quail. Lamb, pork, and even butter (!) will also be aged, and he’ll begin making charcuterie such as bresaola and salt-packed pork jowl. In addition, Acorn’s menu will undergo re-formatting to coincide with the renovations.
Adjacent to the dry-aging room and expanded Acorn kitchen will be HECH’s newest concept: a dessert shop, called Melted, that will offer freshly baked cookies (get it?) and soft-serve ice cream that guests can enjoy at the shop or take to go. Melted should be tempting Denverites with the aroma of baking cookies sometime mid- to late-spring.
Dayton is looking forward to sharing more about Melted’s “fun spin” on custard cones and cookies soon, as well as to growing the HECH empire. “We’re establishing a human resources team, led by Christina Molofsky, to help us create and foster a good, healthy culture,” Dayton says. “Then, I want to continue with not-rapid growth. It’s a marathon, and I want to be consistent.” At present, such sentiments translate to the recent implementation of a health awareness program for HECH employees that covers memberships at a local yoga studio, as well as carefully planning for the group’s next phase, which could include a second Denver Brider, a new project in Brighton, and maybe even a restaurant in the mountains.