Though Josh Wolkon was already contemplating the fate of Vesta, his 23-year-old fine-dining restaurant in LoDo, before the pandemic, the ensuing challenges and restrictions facing the hospitality industry hastened and solidified Wolkon’s decision to permanently close the award-winning spot. He announced the closure yesterday.
Wolkon’s Secret Sauce Food & Beverage Group also owns Steuben’s Uptown and Ace Eat Serve, which will continue to offer takeout and dine-in service; Steuben’s Arvada is temporarily closed. “It’s not goodbye, I’m not out of business,” Wolkon says. “It’s sad, but at the end of the day, I just try to take an approach of gratitude. Not everybody gets to run their childhood dream restaurant for 23 years.”
Closing Vesta was an emotional decision for Wolkon, who was 25 when he signed the lease for the Blake Street restaurant, in what was then a mostly deserted neighborhood in downtown Denver. He had studied small business management at the University of Vermont and already managed restaurants in Boston, with plans to return to the East Coast to open his own place after learning to cook in Boulder. Instead, Wolkon fell in love with the abundant sunshine and outdoor lifestyle of the West. “One year in Colorado and I was sold,” he says.
Wolkon has always been a consummate host and epic party thrower—he says his experience as his college fraternity’s social chairman was almost as valuable as business classes—and he wanted to open a restaurant with a social atmosphere. Vesta, which started out as Vesta Dipping Grill, was the realization of those dreams. “I love that immediate gratification of seeing smiles on peoples’ faces when a party hits its peak,” he says. “That’s what I wanted. I wanted a place where I could throw a party every single night.”
For Vesta’s regulars and guests—and longtime staff members—that warm, welcoming, hospitality-driven party lasted more than two decades.
Wolkon knew before the pandemic that he’d likely face a rent increase when Vesta’s lease was due for renewal in 2021, as LoDo’s culinary and nightlife scenes were booming before coronavirus took hold. After Colorado restaurants were shuttered in the spring, Vesta’s full-service, higher-end model and physical space did not lend itself well to takeout. The restaurant has no patio space and has relied primarily on downtown tourism and office traffic for revenue, both of which plummeted in the wake of world-wide quarantine. “We could be busy—and we were still busy—but the costs that went into that level of food, service, all of it, it’s hard to charge enough to make the business model work,” Wolkon says.
Above all else, Wolkon says he’s grateful to Vesta for bringing so many great people into his life. Vesta is where he fell in love with his wife Jen Wolkon (the two just celebrated their 20th anniversary) and worked side-by-side with chef Matt Selby for 15 years. On the restaurant’s Facebook page, Wolkon also paid tribute to longtime Vesta bar manager Kari Cummings and chef Nick Kayser. “Vesta has a life of its own and a family of its own that’s hard to describe,” Wolkon says.
One extra-special member of the Vesta family was the late chef Brandon Foster, who cooked at Vesta for 11 years. Foster, 41, died earlier this month while with his family in Summit County. Now, in support of Foster’s wife and three young children, Vesta is hosting a takeout “Boards for Brandon” fundraiser (August 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and August 9, 1 to 5 p.m.) at the restaurant. Foster created and nurtured Vesta’s impressive charcuterie program during his time there, so it’s fitting for the restaurant’s final party to include gorgeous meat-and-cheese arrangements, served on keepsake bamboo cutting boards inscribed with #belikebrandon; order your board, and sign up for the chance to shop through Vesta’s wine cellar, here.