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A burger from Meadowlark Kitchen. Photo by Kari Cummings

Coronavirus Shutters Meadowlark Kitchen

Co-owner Casey Karns says the restaurant industry’s razor-thin margins weren’t enough to save the RiNo burger spot, which has been closed since mid-March.

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One of Denver’s best burgers is a victim of COVID-19. The Meadowlark Kitchen, and its towering signature burger of meat, sweet and spicy bacon, poached egg, a thick onion ring, and Irish cheddar sauce on a homemade brioche bun, is no more. Co-owner Casey Karns said that he and chef/co-owner Joshua Bitz made the difficult decision to permanently close because the industry’s razor-thin margins aren’t enough to help them survive its extended closure (the restaurant didn’t offer takeout during the coronavirus shutdown). Karns also mentioned Bitz’s high-risk type 1 diabetes and how the duo doesn’t want to jeopardize his health.

“The margins in this business are just so small. When COVID hit, it just takes a week to basically turn you upside down in the restaurant business. It’s not like we’re just sitting on cash,” Karns says. “And physically, we only have 500 square feet for customers to be inside. If you’re going to cut that down, that means we could basically fit eight people in our restaurant. It just didn’t make any sense.”

Meadowlark Kitchen opened in December 2014, and the tiny space gained fans for Bitz’s scratch-made, creative food. While carnivores may have come for the burger, veggie-lovers flocked there for dishes like roasted cauliflower with butternut squash purée and candied peanuts; shaved grilled brussels sprouts with fried capers, parmesan, and Caesar dressing; and pickled, roasted, and fried mushrooms with poached egg and curry hollandaise.

And then there were the late-night DJ parties. “We did a lot more than just serve food there,” Karns says. “We have some of the best DJs in the world who would just sit in and throw parties and it was the most fun ever. We would just pack them in. That’s what really paid the bills there, with the late-night DJ party stuff, and that world doesn’t exist in this environment.

“Part of the heartbreak of all this is how well we were doing. Even in January and February our numbers were up. That was really exciting for us to start the year off that way. We’ve been steadily up since day one. It was working.”

Right now, most of the restaurant is packed up and sitting in a storage unit, but some of its art was sold at ILA Gallery on Kalamath Street. Karns and Bitz are working on a late July voter registration event at the gallery called Beats, Art, and Eats. The eats component will likely be passed appetizers made by Bitz, but alas, no Meadowlark burger.

“As of right now, there are no more Meadowlark burgers,” Karns says. “It’s been seven years of our life. I spent every day on this. It’s heartbreaking.”

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