Denver chef Tajahi Cooke has built a reputation as both an activist and cook throughout the pandemic, and now he’s helping to start up an Arvada food hall with a distinct mission behind it.
Freedom Street Social opens to the public on Wednesday, July 13. It brings 10 food and drink concepts to Candelas Parkway in Arvada, where Cooke and the food hall’s co-owner, Nick Costanzo, hope to set an example in the community.
“Our goal is to use this as a restaurant incubator, to take brands and test them in new markets,” Costanzo told The Denver Post. “Our goal with every (chef) in here is to give them a platform to really grow in a lot of different avenues.”
Costanzo and his wife, Amie, who are longtime Arvada residents and business owners, built out the 12,000-square-foot hall together with business partners Cameron Cummins, Jeff Kaplan and Jon Morgan. They joined forces with Cooke and his wife, Danielle, to create a main food hall concept called the Chef’s Kitchen in which Cooke mentors up-and-coming or out-of-work chefs, providing a month-long residency program.
Together with the chefs, Cooke puts on a couple of supper clubs each month, offering multicourse meals to dinner guests. Meanwhile, the visiting chefs put together their own menus for daily counter service.
First up this month is Tracy Rogers, originally from Charlotte, N.C., who owns Another Round Disc Golf and Tap Room. Rogers will bring his “new-age Southern” cooking to Freedom Street. As Cooke says, “Tracy’s crab roll is one of the best damn crab rolls I’ve ever tasted.”
In addition to Cooke’s and Rogers’ food, diners will find about 10 more options for dining and drinking at the hall, including the new Sushi Kuro, operated by longtime Denver sushi chef Taylor West; Osito from Blake Edmunds, the chef behind Mister Oso in RiNo; and Pressed Coffee and Vinyl, run by hall co-owner Amie Costanzo.
Prior to opening their food hall, the Costanzos opened and operated Marco’s Pizza locations (not to be confused with Marco’s Coal Fired) in Colorado. Now they’re working with partners in other out-of-state restaurants — Balance Pan-Asian Grille, Jeremiah’s Italian Ice and Giordano’s Pizza — to open and test those concepts at Freedom Street Social.
Finally, the team will offer Bubble Tea (run by Balance Pan-Asian), Cooke’s own BKFST Club, plus FAM Hospitality’s Johnny Good Burger and Lea Jane’s Hot Chicken (which also operates at Denver’s Zeppelin Station). FAM is a new hospitality group that longtime Texas chef Paul Qui formed with business partner Johnny Hoang, who Cooke met while working at the food hall Tributary in Golden.
Before forming their hospitality group, Hoang had debuted a few Denver food stalls — including Qui’s Thai Kun — without Qui’s name attached to them. The former “Top Chef” winner didn’t open his own concepts in Colorado at first, after facing a strong initial backlash of public opinion following his arrest in Texas in 2016 on suspicion of assaulting his then-girlfriend and preventing her and her young son from fleeing. The charges were dropped in 2018 after the alleged victim declined to participate in the trial.
Since Qui’s initial struggles within the Colorado restaurant scene, he’s undergone rehab and therapy, and along the way, local food hall operators have started to welcome his concepts, from Tributary Food Hall & Market to Zeppelin Station and now Freedom Street Social.
“That was very thought through as well,” Nick Costanzo said, when asked about inviting Qui to participate in the new Arvada food hall. “We asked the question ourselves … and think he’s done the right things (since the domestic-violence arrest) and deserves a comeback.
“I think (Qui’s) food speaks for him,” Costanzo added.
The Cookes agree. Prior to coming onboard at Freedom Street, Tajahi Cooke was raising awareness for social justice causes, food security issues and political matters through advocacy dinners, as well as during annual free Thanksgiving meals. He and Danielle said they’re “not the kind of people to turn people away,” and instead want to create “a space for everyone.”
“It is very sensitive,” Danielle said. “Everyone deserves a chance and yet everyone can be affected (by that) in some way.”
So at Freedom Street, they’re giving some chefs first chances and other chefs second chances.
“This is our way of bringing up the conversation, not turning our backs on individuals,” Tajahi Cooke said.
Freedom Street Social; 15177 Candelas Parkway, Arvada; 720-716-3615; freedomstreetsocial.com
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