Despite building four successful breweries across the metro area since 2011, including a South Downing Street location that debuted in spring 2021, Denver Beer Company co-founder Patrick Crawford and CEO Robert MacEachern knew years ago that they still wanted to expand—and expand south, in particular.

“When you look at the Lakewoods and Arvadas, they’re getting full, and you see that urban spread heading south,” MacEachern says. “When Denver Beer Co. was started over a decade ago, a lot of our core customers were in their 30s and 20s and had an easier life. Then 10 to 12 years later, life changes, you have kids, and you move out to the suburbs. So I think it tracks with our current customers, and I see that spread continue to occur in Parker, Centennial, and Lone Tree.” That’s why, this past December, Denver Beer Co. opened its newest taproom all the way down in downtown Littleton.

According to a 2022 report from economic development agency Denver South, the population of the Denver South region (roughly comprising the suburbs adjacent to I-25 from DTC to Lone Tree) increased 2 percent annually from 2011 to 2020, outpacing the 1.7 percent increase for metro Denver at large. And that shift is attracting the attention of Denver-area bars and restaurants. Established eateries like Cherry Cricket, Atomic Cowboy, HashTAG, Postino, Prost, Chook, and Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken have opened locations in Littleton, Highlands Ranch, and Centennial over the past few years, and restaurant owners like Eric Hyatt, who purchased Littleton’s Grande Station last September, say the momentum is only building.

HashTAG’s Highlands Ranch location. Photo courtesy of TAG Restaurant Group

“The city [of Denver] is going through a change right now where people are moving away from it, and they’re not as excited to go back,” says Hyatt, a Littleton resident who also co-founded and owned Angelo’s Taverna and Carboy Winery before leaving those positions last summer. “Our hearts were broken to see what happened to Denver during COVID and how it feels there now. It’s not an inviting place. To be honest, I’m really excited to be in the suburbs, and there’s a lot of excitement about bringing some of those [dining] experiences out here.”

Hyatt says he’s been blown away by the support for local restaurants in Littleton, to the point where he and Rachel, his wife and business partner, want to open a second restaurant on Littleton’s Main Street. “I want to be able to walk from one location to the next and wave to my friends and say hi to people on the way, because we just love downtown,” he says. “We love the feeling that it has and the love and support that it gets.”

According to a 2023 Littleton market analysis, 27.4 percent of the city’s gross retail sales occur at eating and drinking establishments—8.1 percent higher than that of the entire state. Cindie Perry, who became the city’s economic development director in 2021, says her community’s commitment to dining out has helped attract even more eateries to the area.

“Our team has been really proactive—we’re not just sitting in our office waiting for restaurants to come here,” Perry says. “If we see something cool out there, we’ll go talk to them about Littleton. If we hear of a business that is interested in coming here, we’ll go to another one of their locations and talk with the owners. I think it’s important for those owners to know that they have support from the city.”

Korri Lundock, executive director of the Littleton Business Chamber, says the city’s property owners are also diligent in finding the perfect tenants for vacant buildings. “Some of these faces will sit empty for even a year trying to find something that fits,” she says. “They’re trying to create a well-balanced neighborhood, and they are very specific in trying to bring in things that they’re sure the community will like.”

Historic Downtown Littleton at dusk
Historic Downtown Littleton at dusk. Photo by Riane Menardi Morrison

And when it works out, the whole community benefits. Perry says that when well-known concepts such as Cherry Cricket or Denver Beer Co. come to the area, it raises the community’s profile and creates buzz for other brands to follow suit. And with the city setting aside $100,000 for small business revitalization grants, there’s even more incentive to set up shop.

For restaurant owners like wife-and-husband duo Zoe Romero and Andres Venalonzo, who opened Cencalli Taqueria this past December, municipal support helps their new eateries flourish from the start. “[In Littleton], there’s a diversity of different types of concepts and restaurants, and ‘mom and pop’ is still an idea that [the city embraces],” Romero says. “It just makes it easier when you have a face and an actual human being that is trying to help you and support you.”

Cencalli and Grande Station are only 300 feet apart, and while the two technically compete for business on Littleton’s bustling Main Street, they’re quick to say that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to help each other out—and that camaraderie is alive and well between new and established restaurateurs. “I feel genuinely accepted and supported by everyone around me and that it’s not at all a competition or that we’re competing against each other,” Romero says.

Hyatt says that networking events promoted by the city and chamber also help create community. “We have the opportunity every month to meet with our merchant neighbors, to talk to them, to get an update on how things are going,” he says. “It’s just an incredible feeling to be down here.”

Looking toward the future, Perry says the city is preparing to release its comprehensive economic development strategy this year, which features plans to rebrand Littleton as a creative and cutting-edge small town. That decision is based on feedback from residents—especially the city’s younger residents, whose voices, she says, have been muted by Littleton’s historically older population. “They’re pushing for higher density and a more urban lifestyle,” she says. “We are in an urban environment—we are not suburbia—and we really need to acknowledge that.”

Cherry Cricket’s Littleton location. Photo courtesy of the Cherry Cricket

However, Perry says she’s committed to maintaining the charm of her town. Economic development plans will focus on more support for small businesses as well as improving streetscapes, walkability, and bike connectivity downtown and on Littleton Boulevard, where Cherry Cricket opened last summer and Littleton Brewing Company will open in 2024. She also hints at opportunities for mixed-use development throughout the city that could further increase the number of available restaurant and retail spaces.

In the meantime, the expanse of new restaurants down south is keeping suburbanites sated close to home, and proprietors like Denver Beer Co.’s Crawford and MacEachern are not only embedding themselves in the community, but also reaping the benefits.

“I think when we continue to expand, I think it’ll be south,” MacEachern says. “You just sense that spread is going to continue and go south, and we want to be there to capitalize on that and be in communities that not only support us, but we support them, and it becomes a great relationship.”

Riane Menardi Morrison
Riane Menardi Morrison
Riane is 5280’s former digital strategy editor and assistant food editor. She writes food and culture content. Follow her at @riane__eats.