Don’t call it a ghost kitchen. Owner Jake Riederer certainly doesn’t think of Open that way, his new sandwich shop located in the kitchen at American Bonded on Larimer Street in RiNo. “It’s a multi-use space, not a ghost kitchen” he says, “where there’s a baker and bar food and a focus on delivery. There’s also a mission behind it: “Eat Well. Do Good.”
In other words, Riederer created the idea behind Open—a mostly delivery concept with a simple menu culled from some of the best chefs in Denver that supports local charities—for the pandemic moment and beyond. It all came together rather organically as Riederer, coming off years as general manager at chef Dana Rodriguez’s Super Mega Bien and a recent stint at Postino Wine Cafe, contemplated his next move. His wife, Cecelia Jones, the general manager and resident sake genius at Uncle in Speer, told him to go for it. “She said there would never be a better time to try this, and she was right,” Riederer says.
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He wrote the business plan with third-party delivery fees in mind, falling for the location at the back end of American Bonded in part because there’s a doorway with a bell off the alley where delivery workers can pick up food without going through the bar. Hungry Denverites can pick up their Open sandwiches that way, too, and can bypass paying third-party fees by ordering directly from the restaurant’s website.
However you order, Open’s sandwich menu is killer. Riederer called on his friend of 10 years and former Atomic Cowboy colleague chef Jhon Chavez, who also worked for Rodriguez at Work & Class for four years, to lead the kitchen and share in the business as culinary partner. Together, they reached out to other local talents, asking for their ultimate sandwich creations; the opening roster includes Uncle and Hop Alley chef-owner Tommy Lee, Jeff Osaka of Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama, culinary director for the Tap & Burger group Cliff Blauvelt, and longtime Denver chef Toru Watanabe. Rodriguez, of course, also has an offering on the menu, as does Chavez.
Every sandwich at Open costs $15, and $1 from each sandwich sold goes to Project Angel Heart, a Denver-based nonprofit that prepares and delivers meals for people living with life-threatening illnesses. Riederer lets the participating chefs determine where the proceeds from their sandwiches go, and the current group decided as one to benefit Project Angel Heart in honor of former executive chef Brandon Foster, who tragically passed away in 2020.
Chef Matt Dulin, who started delivery-based GetRight’s Bakery and Plant Nursery a year ago and who also worked at Uncle with Lee, is now baking GetRight’s sourdough loaves and delicate pastries inside Open’s kitchen and furnishing Chavez with chewy cemita rolls and baguettes for the sandwiches. Tokyo Premium Bakery in Platt Park is supplying tender shokupan (Japanese milk bread) loaves, as well, which are sliced into two different thicknesses for two of Open’s menu items.
Thinly sliced shokupan is what Osaka chose to build his juicy chicken karaage sandwich upon, layering together fried marinated chicken thighs with spicy mayo, ginger-sesame slaw enhanced with the refreshing addition of shiso leaf and Japanese pickles. The Toru from Watanabe is a classic katsu sando (shorthand for “katsuretsu,” which means cutlet in Japanese, and “sando,” the Japanese nickname for sandwiches), showcasing the satisfying contrast of thick, soft slices of shokupan, crunchy breaded pork cutlet (which come from happy pigs raised at Buckner Family Ranch in Boulder county), cool cabbage, and spicy-sweet hot mustard-laced tonkatsu sauce.
Blauvelt’s sandwich is a meatloaf masterpiece. “Sandwiches are so playful,” he says, “you can really do anything with them.” He chose to start with a baguette and a pork-and-bacon meatloaf glazed in a mixture of pureed K.R.E.A.M kimchi, ketchup, and brown sugar. Coors-Banquet-and-bacon-braised collard greens add smoky moisture to the sandwich, while melted Jarlsberg cheese holds it all together. Crispy onions are the savory icing on top.
Rodriguez’s sandwich is a wonderful cochinita pibil iteration, which she feels entirely comfortable having Chavez prepare on her behalf. “We’ve had cochinita pibil at Work & Class since the beginning,” she says, “and Jhon knows how to make my food perfectly.” He starts the Yucatan-inspired recipe by marinating pork shoulder in achiote paste, then braising the meat overnight until it’s meltingly tender. The shredded meat and a spoonful of the cooking juices go onto a round cemita roll along with a fresh cabbage slaw (cilantro, radish, tomato, and lime differentiate it from the other sandwiches’ slaws) and pickled onions. “It’s got acid, spice, juice,” Rodriguez says. “It’s got it all.”
Ask Lee how the creative process of developing his short rib sandwich went and he’ll laughingly tell you that it was “a terrible experience!” Not because he didn’t want to contribute, but because he obsessed over his recipe, creating multiple variations and playing around with everything from how he cooked the meat to different mayos to the dipping broth served alongside. At one point, Lee even scrapped the short rib idea altogether in favor of an Italian-style sub—but in the end, he more than nailed the braised short rib beauty you’ll find on Open’s menu. “It’s a sandwich cross between Sichuan hot pot, birria, and a French dip,” Lee says. “It’s not super Asian, but it’s bold and spicy and very much like the food at Uncle and Hop Alley.” The five-napkin sandwich comes on a baguette, with Sichuan-spiced short rib, gooey provolone, arugula, and sesame mayo, with a fiery mapo-tofu-inspired broth on the side for dunking. It’s crazy delicious.
Last but far from least, Chavez added a vegetarian chile relleno sandwich to round out Open’s menu, and it’s another winner. To make it, he stuffs a roasted poblano chile with Asadero cheese and potatoes, batters and fries it, and serves it on a chewy sesame cemita roll with shredded iceberg lettuce, slices of avocado, long pieces of fresh Oaxaca cheese, and a sweet chipotle spread made with chipotles in adobo, piloncillo sugar, cinnamon, and clove. Chavez also bakes salted shortbread, dark chocolate pistachio cookies, and lemon bars for Open’s dessert menu, and there are house-made potato chips and sides of Blauvelt’s collard greens available, too.
“Being able to start a company that does things others won’t or haven’t, and where being kind is the driving principle, is what Open is all about,” Riederer says. “We’re open for whatever is to come and hope we can be a force for good in the community.” He hopes to someday expand the Open concept to other bars, featuring different drinking-friendly fare, but for now, Open at American Bonded is more than enough.
Open at American Bonded (which reopened on March 4) is slinging sandwiches daily from 4 p.m. to midnight. Order online here for pick up or delivery or call 720-531-3969; 2706 Larimer St.