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It’s been a big couple of weeks for Alex Seidel of Mercantile Dining & Provision, Fruition Restaurant, and Fruition Farms Creamery: On May 7, he won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. But what few know is that a couple of days prior, he and Adam Schlegel, co-founder of Snooze, signed a lease on the Village Cork space on the corner of Louisiana Avenue and Pearl Street in Platt Park. The pending concept: an Australian-inspired, fast-casual chicken restaurant called Chook (pronounced like “look”).
Schlegel, whose wife, Sarah, is Australian, has become obsessed with the country’s chicken shops—neighborhood spots selling charcoal-fired rotisserie chickens (or “chook”), whole or in pieces, and a handful of salads and sides for eating in or taking away. “It’s the thing I miss most about Australia,” says Schlegel, who lived there for a year and a half. “I’ve been talking about it ever since we moved back three years ago.”
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Back in January, Schlegel gathered Seidel and Randy Layman (longtime bar manager of Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve and most recently a sales director at Leopold Bros.) and flew to Melbourne for a three-day chook crash course. The guys were hooked and they’ve been quietly putting together a business plan, working on recipes, and looking at real estate ever since. The perfect location presented itself when Lisa Lapp of the Village Cork called Seidel to tell him she was closing and ask if he would like to take over the space. The answer was, of course, yes.
This past Saturday, Seidel, Schlegel, and Layman hosted an informal tasting of Chook’s menu at Seidel’s home in Lakewood. Surrounded by platters of fire-licked rotisserie chicken, plates of sandwiches on Füdmill rolls stuffed with pulled chicken, and bowls brimming with salads, the trio talked about the concept. “Neither of us needed to open another restaurant,” Schlegel says. “But this is delicious food that you can eat daily. Everyone is busier than ever but they still want healthy and thoughtful food for their families.” Seidel takes that thought further by explaining how it’s always bothered him that while he sits on panels talking about agriculture and open access to food, his restaurants are expensive and not accessible to the masses.
Chook, which is slated to open mid-September, will serve as an answer to those issues in more ways than one. In addition to food that you can feel good about feeding your family, the price will be affordable: roughly $35 to feed a family of four, likely with leftovers—and a takeaway recipe for how to make stock with the chicken bones. “We really want to get the message across about the lifecycle of that chicken,” Schlegel says.
In true Schlegel and Seidel form, there’s more to Chook than just chicken. “This is a way of giving back to the community,” Seidel says. “There’s a charitable piece and a farming piece. Looking at the Chipotle model and what they did for the pork industry—we want to do that for chicken.” The plan is to dig deep into Colorado’s poultry industry and work with farmers to identify really good chicken. Ultimately, Seidel, Schlegel, and Layman want to get into the chicken business and have their own farm. “We want to create change,” Schlegel says. “That’s the biggest driver of what I do. And restaurants seem to be the best way to do it.”
On the micro level, Denver diners and families will have a new place to go where kids are welcome and takeaway is a big part of the equation. For those who want to eat in, the rotisserie will be the centerpiece—“almost like a deejay booth,” Schlegel says—and there will be beer and wine, and possibly a Pimm’s Cup, on tap. But whether you stay or takeout, your dining dollars will go to a greater cause: one percent of sales will go back to the community each month.
1300 S. Pearl St.