When Robbie Stout and Anna Davis crammed into an overflowing elevator on their way to a Jan. 18 awards ceremony, they could hardly believe their company. Among the nation’s most recognized chocolate brand owners, Stout and Davis and their company, Ritual Chocolate, were about to be announced a Good Food Awards winner.
“It was an honor because it draws attention to an appreciation for small craft makers who are really trying to source food responsibly and bring in the quality aspect,” says Davis. “I think it’s changing a lot of the food industry because people are coming in and putting passion into it.”
A mission to create community is the guiding ingredient for a new slew of Five Points businesses, including Ritual Chocolate. Along with other craft food businesses, Davis and Stout are devoting their energy to great care for their product and pride in their community.
The care and interest its owners have for their work and for the community of craft producers struck Steve DeVries. A hobby chocolate maker himself, DeVries agreed to loan his Denver factory to the couple after meeting them at a cacao bean farm in Costa Rica. DeVries says Denver’s Five Points neighborhood has been waiting for this sort of recognition since he first started renting property in the 1980s, and he says this shared respect for community has something to do with it.
“In the ’80s people bought property on the block because they thought what is happening now — an economic rebirth — was going to happen then,” says DeVries.
Other shops encouraging this trend are coffee roaster Novo, microbrewery Our Mutual Friend, wine merchant Infinite Monkey Theorem and hipster haven Crema Coffee House. Within five years and mere blocks from one another, they have all opened their doors to the public — and to each other.
“We are all buds,” says Bryan Leavelle, co-founder of Our Mutual Friend. “We hang out and trade beer for T-shirts and coffee. I’ve been meaning to knock on the door of Ritual Chocolate and talk about making a chocolate beer.”
These working ties and sense of community are what some of the property owners dating back to the ’50s had in mind.
“My dad built his first building in Five Points in 1956,” says Sonia Danielson of her father, Nick Sigeil. “He always wanted it to be a community. I would joke that he was the mayor because he’d drive around in his Lincoln and go visit everybody.”
Danielson owns the properties leased by Crema and Our Mutual Friend. She says that she intentionally chose the four friends who own Our Mutual Friend, who got serious about brewing beer after Leavelle casually suggested it one evening, because their vision fit with her father’s.
“The main goal of the entire brewery is to bring people together,” Leavelle says. “Yes, the beer is good, but just to have a place for people to get together and talk without TVs. We need to change the stigma around alcohol. It’s really about having community.”
Another newbie to the neighborhood is the Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. Like Ritual and OMF, the quality of its product and sourcing responsibly is important, but so is attracting a certain kind of folk.
“The branding is made to look like graffiti. That itself is the antithesis of the wine industry,” says Aaron Berman, the company’s CFO. “When the owner’s dad died, it gave him a kick to start something he’d always wanted to: this concept of an urban, gritty winery that is more approachable for a younger generation of drinkers and bringing it into the city because that is where the people reside.”
Unlike a picturesque California winery on a vineyard with the luxury of land at hand, Infinite Monkey Theorem has to get creative with its waste.
“There is so much we can do to be more resourceful, like take all our grape skins after pressing, traditionally they are thrown away, and instead we built compost bins,” says Berman. “Local restaurants will grow in them.”
Novo Coffee also shares a goal to cater to an echelon of people genuinely interested in community.
“If you walk into my coffee shop and know nothing about coffee … you can’t detect that fruity nuance like the guy from the Sideways movie … well, we treat you just as well as someone who can,” says Herb Brodsky, co-founder of Novo with his two sons.
And someone who definitely can detect the nuances of coffee, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, was quoted in Wire saying that a Novo cup of coffee was the best he’s had in his life.
“For a recent fundraiser, we fit 400 people in this warehouse. People were walking in off the street to join. It was great,” Brodsky says. “There is just such an amazing array of young folks who are passionate. I think that is what makes this area unique.”
The craft goods sector shows no sign of slowing down. The RiNo (River North) area of Denver will follow suit and open a public market including a cheese shop, a butcher, and a brewer in a retrofitted 130-year-old building.
Time will tell if proximity can build the same sense of community that has marked Five Points’ small-business movement.