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Culinary Incubator Avanti Lifts Off in LoHi

Avanti has emerged as a neighborhood hotspot.

The concept is a collective space with seven culinary options and two large bars.

Quiero Arepas owners Igor and Beckie Panasewicz.

The expansive patio features furniture made from cushioned pallets on rollers.

An arepa from Quiero Arepas.

Indoor/outdoor eating is a feature of Avanti's top floor.

Specialty cocktails can be ordered from one of the two bars.

The torta special from Poco Torteria.

Artwork fills the walls at Avanti.

The daily pizza special at Brava!

Startup eateries can hone their menus and business models without going into debt.

Pitched as a "Galvanize for restaurateurs," Avanti F&B brings the coworking ethos to the restaurant world. Startup eateries can hone their menus and business models without going into debt.
In the weeks after Avanti Food & Beverage opened its doors in LoHi, it emerged as a neighborhood hotspot.

The concept, sort of a reinvented food court, is a collective space with seven culinary options and two large bars.

Developed by Rob Hahn and Patrick O'Neill, Avanti is located in the old Avanti Print and Graphics building at 3200 Pecos St., a study in adaptive reuse from Denver's Meridian 105 Architecture.

Inspired by European markets -- Hahn lived in Spain for a while -- Avanti serves as a restaurant incubator for chefs wanting to test new concepts without the high cost of building out a restaurant. It costs about $15,000 to open at Avanti, compared with as much as $500,000 for a traditional restaurant space.

"We will always be on the cutting edge of food trends," Hahn says.

Farmer Girl chef/owner Tim Payne, formerly of Z Cuisine, says the experience at Avanti has been great for his concept, which features local and sustainable food.

"This does nothing but positive things for our brand as far as educating the public and getting exposure," says Payne, who aspires to open a traditional restaurant some day. "This is a jumping-off point."

Still, some owners of concepts in Avani have no designs on opening  permanent restaurants. The proprietors of Quiero Arepas, which follows a regular schedule for its food truck at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market and Civic Center Eats, like the flexibility Avanti offers and sees it as an ends in itself. "It's been wonderful," says Igor Panasewicz, who owns the business with his wife, Beckie,

Other restaurant concepts at Avanti include Brava! Pizzeria Della Strada, BIXO mexiterranean bites, Souk Shawarma, Poco Torteria and noodle joint MiJo. And there's that cool sticker machine at Avanti's entrance if anyone wants to support a particular restaurant. Hahn says a vendor came in and offered to install and maintain the machine.

That many restaurants puts a diverse collection of personalities under one roof. Hahn keeps the leases to the restaurants short -- one to two years -- so if there's conflict, someone has to go.

"They have to coexist and get along," Hahn says.

Culinary collaborationsQuiero Arepas owners Igor and Beckie Panasewicz.

Avanti's business model is similar to that of Larimer Associates, which partners with chefs to establish restaurants in the properties it owns. Larimer manages the restaurants, allowing the chefs to focus on the food.

Hahn's philosophy is similar.

"We're trying to strip away everything so all they have to focus on is the kitchen," he says. "They can come in and focus on the food, and we take care of the front of the house."

Hahn, who's been buying real estate in the LoHi neighborhood since 1995, says that if a concept is successful at Avanti, he'll consider helping a chef open a full-service brick-and-mortar business in a building he either already owns or plans to acquire.

Customers seem to love the concept. On a recent day, friends Steve Casaleggio and Jeffrey Kitchens, both Lakewood residents who work from home, met at Avanti for lunch and a beer on the establishment's expansive patio, which features furniture made from cushioned pallets on rollers. The developers even fashioned one section with bleacher seats facing Coors Field after hearing the roar of the crowed during a Colorado Rockies game.

"The view and the beer selection are great," says Kitchens, market manager of insurance company MedPro Group's west division.

Casaleggio, who is gluten intolerant, said finding something he could eat at one of Avanti's seven establishments was a piece of cake.

"I'm absolutely enamored with this place,"  says Casaleggio, a geological consultant and researcher.

Eats for everyoneThe expansive patio features furniture made from cushioned pallets on rollers.

The seven restaurant concepts, housed in modified shipping containers, give customers a plethora of options -- even large groups don't have to agree on a specific cuisine when deciding where to have a lunch or dinner meeting -- the food hall already is is a popular place for lunchtime business meetings. It's large community table is reserved most days.

"If you have eight people to take to lunch, everyone can get something they want," Hahn says.

It's also a great destination for families with picky eaters because everyone can find something they want to eat, and because the restaurants can't have anything on their menus that costs more than $15, taking the kids to dinner won't break the budget.

"Avanti is now answering the age-old question of 'Where do we eat?'" Hahn says. "This is going to keep families together."

Though the popular dining spot has plenty of fans, Avanti's immediate neighbors aren't quite as enthusiastic. Hahn, who doesn't even own a car, says many have complained about parking, even though the food hall offers free valet parking and has 50 parking spaces in the lot at the back of the building. Hahn and his partner Patrick O'Neill also paid $55,000 for one of the largest B-Cycle stations in the city, and there's a bus stop just across the street.

"People have to get used to alternatives to their cars," Hahn says. "Building more parking is only going to create more parking problems."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Margaret Jackson.

Margaret is a veteran Denver real estate reporter and can be contacted here.
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