Olivia Hartley loves reading, music, and all things Harry Potter; she may one day star in a band she’d like to call Brown Butter. But pasta… the nine-year-old daughter of Café Marmotte co-owner Heather Morrison (and step-daughter to co-owner Austin Carson) adores pasta, as well as focaccia, gelato, and pretty much anything else linked to Italian cuisine. “It’s so delicious,” she says, tucking into a bowl of lobster spaghetti she made with Café Marmotte’s third co-owner, Ty Leon, on a recent evening at Morrison and Carson’s home in southeast Denver. I was there to meet Olivia, watch the group make fresh pasta, and learn why Morrison, Carson, and Leon decided to name their first brick-and-mortar restaurant after the fourth grader.
Sweet and smiling—and eager to help roll spaghetti alla chitarra and fold tortellini—Olivia is a natural muse for the Café Marmotte trio. Leon has known her since she was four years old, when he became partners with Morrison and Carson at Avanti Food & Beverage’s Bistro Georgette. (The team had already spent years working together at Frank Bonanno’s Mizuna, with Leon in the kitchen, Morrison working the floor as a server, and Carson reigning behind the bar.)
Carson’s favorite food memory is of making hand-cut pasta together after he and Morrison eloped in 2017. “It was the first time we made pasta with Olivia and she couldn’t believe how easy it was—and how you could make the dough right on the counter, without even using a bowl,” Morrison says. Olivia, nodding, agrees, “It was so good!”
And so, after buying the Washington Park French bistro this past summer, the trio is looking forward to transitioning the space into Olivia, an Italian restaurant with a focus on fresh pastas. This past spring, Leon spent months at some of America’s holy grails for such fare: Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon; Lilia in Brooklyn; and Flour + Water in San Francisco. “I learned so much about pasta-making—and how to run a restaurant,” Leon says.
His pasta technique is flawless, working egg yolks into firmer, drier doughs for shapes such as the spaghetti alla chitarra, a long, square-edged noodle from Abruzzo that beautifully soaks up a sauce of mascarpone, lemon, and the earth-meets-sea combination of black truffle and sweet lobster. Whole eggs and additional yolks go into his supple tortellini dough, which Leon and Olivia filled with a roasted pumpkin purée seasoned with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Leon finished the dish with a brown butter-pumpkin sauce, roasted tart apples, pomegranate arils, and crunchy pieces of spiced tuile.
Both pastas are currently available at Café Marmotte, where you can taste Leon’s creative bistro fare through the end of dinner service on New Year’s Eve. Both will appear on Olivia’s menu, too, along with Leon’s take on Italian-inspired appetizers, additional pastas such as basil mafaldine with tomato-braised meatballs, and entrées like chicken marsala.
Carson is ready to reinvigorate the bar at Olivia, too. Local woodworker (and former Mizuna wine director) Kelly Wooldridge, of SGO Works, is building Carson a white oak bar top and shelving to match the new tables being crafted for Olivia’s dining room (which will also get a new color scheme and, if Leon has his way, a grand wooden door). So outfitted, Carson’s beverage menu will “be all over the place,” he says, taking inspiration from across the globe.
The house martini, for instance, another ode to Olivia (the girl), is an ice-cold, crisp blend of gin distilled from olives and herbs, Family Jones Spirit House vodka, a splash of Tanqueray 10, saline solution (in lieu of olive juice), and Dolin dry vermouth; an olive wood block studded with four kinds of olives is part of the service. There will also be a tiny pre-dessert cocktail of roasted sweet potato butter beer that Carson created in honor of a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that Morrison, Carson, and Olivia took to celebrate the couple’s first wedding anniversary.
“Restaurants are like our children,” says Leon, “and this team is a family.” Which is why it makes so much sense that Morrison, Carson, and Leon would model their first brick-and-mortar offspring after what their favorite girl likes to eat best.
And in response to the Café Marmotte customers who have decried the team’s decision to transform it into an Italian menu, Carson jokes, “We can’t keep up with the pasta at our French restaurant. We sell out every night.” The trio hopes that’s a sign that the Washington Park community will embrace Olivia (the restaurant) when she is, well, born in early 2020.
Morrison, however, gets the last word: “We believe that hospitality is meeting guests where they are,” she says. “So if someone wants a Café Marmotte dish [after Olivia is open], all they have to do is call and let us know. With a few days notice, we can make it happen.”
290 S. Downing St., 303-999-0395. Open 5–9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. on Sundays. Call now to reserve your seat for a special four-course, Italy-meets-France New Year’s Eve prix fixe menu ($100 per person) that will celebrate Café Marmotte and ring in forthcoming Olivia.