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Fans of Kenneth Wan and Doris Yuen’s Meta Asian Kitchen, a longtime favorite at Avanti Food and Beverage, can soon satiate their appetite at the couple’s first brick-and-mortar spot in Denver. The husband-and-wife team will debut MAKfam, a fast-casual eatery, in Baker on November 1, and they are eager to continue expanding public conceptions of Chinese food beyond the typical takeout hubs and corporate chains by serving old favorites and new creations. The name (an abbreviation of “Meta Asian Kitchen family”) pays homage to the restaurant’s predecessor while indicating a greater focus on comfort food.
The couple’s culinary journey began in New York City in 2014, when the two met through a mutual friend over happy hour. At the time, Yuen was working in the biotech industry, but she had always dreamed of opening her own restaurant. Soon Wan—a graduate of the International Culinary Center who had worked in popular kitchens like Xi’an Famous Foods and Momofuku Ssam Bar—began expressing interest in starting a restaurant business.
Wan and Yuen opened their first spot, HKFT (Hong Kong French Toast), to great success at the Queens Night Market in 2015. That eventually led to the debut of the Meta Asian Kitchen brand, which started as a pop-up venture in Jersey City. In 2019, the couple decided to move to Denver at the recommendation of Wan’s sister, a longtime Denver resident, and quickly landed a stall in LoHi’s Avanti Food & Beverage. After four years of charming locals with their Chinese-inspired street food, Wan and Yuen finally fired up the burners at their own brick-and-mortar space.
MAKfam explores nostalgia on a multi-generational level. Yuen immigrated to Rhode Island from Hong Kong at the age of seven when her father, a chef, got a job at a restaurant that sponsored the move. Wan grew up in Massachusetts, where his parents owned and operated a Chinese American takeout spot.
“By our parents being immigrants and spending time growing up in China,” Wan says, “we have the access to learn about different flavors and different dishes that some are maybe unaware of or have never come in contact with.”
Wan, the executive chef, has honed the recipes on MAKfam’s opening menu over the years: char siu (Chinese barbecue pork), pork and shrimp shumai, tongue-tingling mala chicken wings, his mother’s pork fried rice, spicy garlic butter rice cakes, and more. Yuen, who serves as MAKfam’s general manager, is partial to the chicken and chive Chinatown dumplings, which she says transport her back to the neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Wan strives to make as much of the menu from scratch as possible. “I’m a chef because I enjoy cooking,” he says. “I don’t want to have to just rip everything out of a bag.”
Wan and Yuen plan to introduce two weekend brunch menus by the start of the new year: a dim-sum-style brunch, as well as a revival of their brunch menu at LoDo’s Honor Farm, where they operated Meta Asian Kitchen as a pop-up from March through July of this year. Yuen knows that by building rapport with the customers, MAKfam can continue integrating lesser-known fare, such as thousand year egg congee and lap mei (Chinese-style cured meats), into its menu.
MAKfam’s cocktail selections, developed by Honor Farm co-owner Lexi Healy, are equally creative. Expect libations with Asian ingredients like red bean, Vitasoy lemon tea, sesame oil, and even MSG. Yuen also sourced beers from Asian-owned breweries, like a green peppercorn Pilsner from Hong Kong–based Young Master Brewery and a yuzu-scented rice lager from Japanese-Brazilian Japas Cervejaria, to round out the drink menu.
Aesthetically, the 1,670 square foot space evokes a relaxed confidence, with large windows, golden fixtures, neon lights, and a green hue reminiscent of cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong–style cafés or diners). Modern artwork adorns the walls, including imagery of Biggie Smalls, a nod to 1990s East Coast hip hop. The counter-service setup allows people to sit where they please, be it a booth, high-top, or bar; once they order, guests are given mini-stanchions with photos of Hong Kong film legends and pop stars of the ’90s.
“I’m really proud of starting this at this time,” Yuen says. “Like us, Sắp Sửa, Penelope [of Yuan Wonton], and Long [of Thuy by PKR], we’re all kind of opening restaurants at the same time. The Asian community is really thriving.” For Yuen, it’s exhilarating to see a new generation of Asian restaurateurs in Denver take pride in uplifting one another. “We’re all here to see each other succeed,” Wan adds. “It’s a revolution.”
The couple hopes that MAKfam is as formative for their two-year-old, Autumn, as their parents’ restaurants were for them. “I just hope that she’s proud of her Asian heritage,” Yuen says. “And I hope Ken and I are doing what we can to instill that pride in her so she’s excited about being Chinese, about her food, and about what we’re building here.”
39 W. First Ave.