Far Northeast Denver Location Fits Black-Owned Eatery To A ‘Tea’

By Chris Meehan

The first floor of a glass-mirrored office building in an industrial zone isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a restaurant that’s raking in rave reviews on Urban Spoon, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook and similar websites. After all, the first thing you hear about real estate, no matter if it’s residential or commercial, is it comes down to three things: location, location, location.

That’s why at first glance The Grubbery, tucked away on the ground level of the Scott’s Liquid Gold building in Northeast Denver, might not seem like an obvious place for a restaurant catering to all manner of folk — from businesspeople to truckers to third-shifters and families. On second glance it’s pretty easy to get to, in a part of Denver that isn’t exactly teeming with the hottest brunch spots, nightclubs and the hipsters’ scene.  “We want this breakfast, lunch and dinner space to be indicative of its name,” says owner Wy Livingston, who also owns and operates her own fine tea business, Wystone’s World Teas. She took ownership of the restaurant in November 2014. “You come in to really have a good meal—that kind of stick-to-your-ribs food with a healthy flair to it.” Maybe she’s on to something…

While some entrepreneurs might consider the restaurant’s unconventional location an insurmountable challenge, Livingston only sees opportunity. “This type of restaurant doesn’t exist over here, but there’s a lot of opportunity because of that,” she says. “We’re off Havana and I-70. So we’re great for folks coming and going to the airport, great for folks that live in Aurora or Park Hill or Stapleton. We really have a great location and because we’re in the industrial complex and all these businesses can benefit from the kind of menu that we serve.”

Her optimism isn’t naïveté. Ever the smart businesswoman, she did her homework first.  “I looked at the demographics and looked at the area and it became pretty evident this was an underserved market on this side of town and the kind of food that I wanted to serve,” she says. “I thought this would be an opportunity to hit it out of the park.” 

It looks like it’s starting to happen already. Livingston is preparing to put more of her company’s signature stamp on the restaurant as it expands its menu. “Our brand new menu is coming out April 1st,” she says. “That’s going to be a creation of our new chef, Chef Donald James, along with myself. We’re adding about 20 menu items, expanding the appetizer section, adding some additional salads to the menu, but also having a featured section where there are some specialty items like shrimp and grits with andouille sausage and chicken and waffles, but with a red velvet waffle with a mascarpone cream sauce.”

The existing Wystone’s store in the Belmar Center is still open, but now the restaurant now serves as a convenient second pick-up location where customers may purchase her products by the ounce. “We pulled 40 of our best-selling tea products and they can purchase them at the Grubbery,” she explains.

Livingston also leases space in the Scott’s building for blending her gourmet teas. Owning a tea company along with the restaurant, she says, has also helped her to blend two of her favorite passions. “We consider ourselves first and foremost experts at cooking with teas and blending liquors with teas,” Livingston says. “So we have a whole cocktail menu of tea-infused cocktails.”

Partnering with a chef that embraces working with tea as a spice and flavor has been beneficial too. Tea shows up in other menu items, like genmaicha tea infused in the vegetable soup chicken and beef dishes marinated in teas. “We make a carrot cake and the carrot cake has our African Rooibos tea in it—not just in the batter, but also the frosting,” Livingston says.

The restaurant already has a diverse menu that spans the day — from breakfast and brunch on Sundays to lunch and dinner. “We have everything from your typical classic breakfast to pancakes, we serve buckwheat pancakes as well and blueberry pancakes. We do all kinds of Benedicts and a breakfast burger. It’s really what strikes your fancy in terms of meal preferences, sandwiches and salads, a menu for just about everyone,” Livingston explains. “We also have a southern flare to it. Many people come in and are like: ‘Oh my god, grits!’”

Just since November, The Grubbery has expanded its breakfast hours to attract more business clientele. “We used to open at 7 a.m., but if you’re trying to have an hour-long meeting 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. doesn’t work since most people have to be at work by 8, so we open at 6:30,” Livingston says. That’s helped attract more business meetings from companies like Kaiser, which recently held a meeting there. Likewise the Sunday brunch has been a rousing success too, because let’s be honest, everyone in Denver loves brunch. “Brunch has grown from a few tables on Sunday when we started doing it in early December, to a sell-out crowd,” she asserts.

With the ability to accommodate more than 150 people The Grubbery also is pretty ideal for hosting events ranging from wedding showers to graduation parties. “We did Canvas and Cocktails on Feb. 13,” Livingston says, emphasizing her ongoing quest to use the space in innovative ways. “That also introduces people to the restaurant and bodes well for repeat customers.” The event sold out and the organizers have already inquired about hosting a Mother’s Day event. “We’ll probably do one event with them every quarter,” she says.

Still, Livingston sees more opportunities to grow the business. “We have an intense guerrilla marketing campaign going on to let the business community know [we’re here],” she says. “There are literally thousands of people in the area who have never graced our doors because they do not know we’re here.”

Maybe it’s not always about finding the “location.” Perhaps, as in the case of The Grubbery, it’s sometimes about making the location a destination.