Chef Merlin Verrier’s move from Chicago to Denver marked his transition from fine dining to, most recently, food-cart fare at his one-month-old stall at Avanti Food & Beverage. Called Street Feud, the endeavor is about more than just delivering tasty bao buns, tacos, flatbreads, and other casual bites to hungry Denverites—it’s also about empowering every member of his culinary team.
Verrier has a storied pedigree: He’s worked as the culinary director for Next Door American Eatery, as well as director of operations for celebrity chef Graham Elliott in Chicago. Now leading the way at Street Feud (located in the former BorraCho Tacos space on Avanti’s second floor), Verrier’s personal quest for an improved work-life balance has resulted in an employee-focused business model centered around professional growth, equity, and well-being. As such, there is no difference between the front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff at Street Feud; every member of the 10-person team is trained for every role, from cook to cashier. Employees are paid $13–15 per hour with pooled tips, which can mean the addition of about $8 per hour. “The goal is to have everyone on our staff be a cook,” Verrier says.
As someone who has worked in kitchens for 27 years, Verrier wants to build a foundation for employee growth. Giving everyone experience in the kitchen encourages collaboration and empowers cooks to think like chefs. “To some regard, fine dining [is about] accolades… but I’d rather create chefs than win awards,” he says.
Verrier also gives salaried managers health benefits, two weeks paid vacation, and one paid mental health day per quarter, encouraging a focus on self-care. Two of his chefs will join him on an annual research and development trip to a street food destination, so they can “see, feel, and taste” different cuisines and contribute to the evolution of Street Feud’s brand. “Creating a work-life balance of stability and growth is really important to me,” he says.
To the delight of Avanti diners, Street Feud’s dishes stand up to its of-the-moment philosophy. The menu is heavily influenced by the southeast Asian and Latin American cuisines Verrier grew up eating on California’s central coast. You can’t go wrong with any item featuring Verrier’s pork belly, which is seasoned with ginger, garlic, and chiles and braised overnight; a quick flash frying to order crisps the edges to delicious effect. Try it in a bao bun with house-marinated cucumbers and kimchi-infused mayo, or atop the K-Pop fries, which are loaded with kimchi, cheddar cheese sauce, and sour cream. Or go for the umami-rich vegan mushroom taco, packed with sauteed-then-fried mushrooms dusted with chile powder, coriander, salt, and cumin.
Avanti Food & Beverage (3200 Pecos St.), 720-269-4778. Sunday–Wednesday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday 11 a.m.–11 p.m.