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Eat and Drink

Inside the Culinary Creative Group’s 7 Cool New Initiatives

From expanding the Tap & Burger concept to launching a COVID rapid testing site, restaurateur Juan Padró and his team have been busy.

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Juan Padró has a lot of ideas, and he surrounds himself with people who have a lot of ideas, who then surround themselves with others who have even more ideas. And so, as you might imagine, there are a lot of businesses, initiatives, and innovation coming out of Culinary Creative group, led by Padró and partners Katie O’Shea and Max MacKissock. Like aggressively expanding two of the group’s restaurant concepts, Tap & Burger and Mister Oso, in the middle of a global pandemic; acquiring a coffee company; building a snazzy (read: expensive) new cocktail bar in Cherry Creek; opening a second Ash’Kara in Boulder; and even getting in on COVID-19 rapid testing and indoor air quality issues to help restaurants reopen quickly, safely, and at higher occupancy levels. Yes, lots of ideas.

That first one, expanding Tap & Burger and Mister Oso, is likely to please a lot of people, as the trio of Tap & Burgers (Highland, Sloan’s Lake, and DTC) and the relatively new Mister Oso (RiNo), have pretty ardent fans. The fourth Tap & Burger is set to debut in the Downtown Westminster development this spring, and Padró says he’d like to bring the casual eatery up and down the Front Range and out of state, too.

While Mister Oso, the Señor Bear spin-off from chef Blake Edmunds, may barely be a year old, its sales have been dominant, even during this challenging time. “We’ve never done anything that’s been as well-received as Mister Oso,” Padró says. “The numbers it did during COVID, it almost did what our model said [it would do] in non-COVID times. Blake has put a lot of time and effort into things, and I think he’s earned the right to build a brand.”

Padró can’t yet mention where future Osos will pop up, but he’s excited to talk about two confirmed new openings for the group: Ash’Kara, in the former Pepper the Noshery space (and before that, Wild Standard) on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall and Forget Me Not, the ambitious Cherry Creek cocktail bar whose buildout is costing double anything the Culinary Creative group has done in the past.

Ash’Kara, the Middle Eastern restaurant helmed by chef Daniel Asher, will open in the next couple of months. The menu and concept will be very similar to its LoHi predecessor, but with one very cool difference: Boulder’s Ash’Kara will feature an intimate basement bar serving beachy cocktails for sipping on swinging seats.

Culinary Creative Group founder Juan Padro. Photo courtesy of the Culinary Creative Group

But that’s just a warm-up compared to Cherry Creek’s Forget Me Not. “We’ve never done a buildout like that. It’s just a different level. All the touches in that place are mind blowing,” Padró says. Expect exclusive art, feather chandeliers, one-of-a-kind wallpaper, a marble and walnut bar, and $1,500 apiece custom barstools. More importantly, there will be incredible drinks by beverage director extraordinaire Nicole Lebedevitch.

Padró was blown away by her talent at acclaimed Boston bars including the Hawthorne and Yvonne’s. After years of trying to woo Lebedevitch to Denver, Padró decided to build a concept around her when she was ready to make the move. “There is nobody like this woman; she’s a really special talent. I am just so excited for Denver to see her perform,” Padró says. We’ll all be able to do that in March sometime—barring any more government-mandated shutdowns, that is.

Also in Cherry Creek, Culinary Creative bought into Aviano Coffee. This endeavor has been extra personal for Padró, who has a big interest in coffee thanks to his Puerto Rican roots. He plans on growing Aviano, too, which means even more deals being inked this year.

Another one of Padró interests is getting and keeping restaurants open. Not just his group’s, but all restaurants. To that end, he became involved with rapid COVID testing at Nurture Marketplace, providing special discounts for the hospitality industry. “It’s a lot cheaper to get testing than having to shut down for days,” he notes. About 1,000 tests have been conducted at Nurture thus far, which provide quick results—in about 15 minutes—to help lessen the uncertainty that restaurant and bar employees experience surrounding COVID exposure.

Padró believes another COVID game-changer is Atreo, a Denver-based expert indoor air quality assessor and solution provider. Atreo takes a scientific approach to measuring air quality in all sorts of public spaces, from hospitals to airports to restaurants, using an individualized restaurant audit to determine optimal air flow solutions and, with those in place, what level of occupancy is truly safe for that specific restaurant. Padró hopes that the governor’s office will review the work Atreo is doing and consider allowing restaurants who undergo an indoor air audit to open at the capacity deemed safest for their individual space, not simply at a blanket 25 or 50 percent of capacity. This approach could be a pathway to higher occupancy levels for restaurants, which could also mean a pathway to survival for the hard-hit industry.

It’s just another unique, forward-thinking idea from Padró and the idea people working with him.

The Year That Changed Everything

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