How did the owners of one of the best – and smallest – farm-to-table, nose-to-tail neighborhood restaurants end up opening a spacious new restaurant in a downtown hotel? Serendipity.
For years, Paul and Aileen Reilly have responded to requests from people interested in working with them on new projects. The sibling duo ran Encore at the Lowenstein complex in East Colfax from 2008-2012 and, after it closed following unsuccessful lease negotiations, opened Beast + Bottle at 719 East 17th Avenue in 2013. This restaurant quickly grew. gained a reputation as one of the best places to dine in town, known for butchering whole animals in its small kitchen as well as its Colorado-centric sourcing. In 2016, the siblings added Coperta, an Italian restaurant at 400 East 20th Avenue.
News that Beast + Bottle’s building was sold came just before the pandemic hit. At first, the Reillys, along with their partner JP Taylor Jr. (Aileen’s husband), intended to find a new home for the concept. But after a month of searching for a possible space, the closure of the first restaurant was announced in March 2020 – and it soon became clear that moving might not be the best solution. âBeast + Bottle was totally out of place. It was intimate, quaint and romantic, and we were like, ‘I can’t see this moving,'” recalls Paul.
In late summer 2020, a real estate company familiar with the Reillys had been considering potential locations for Beast + Bottle put Paul and Aileen in touch with the Hyatt, who was looking for a local restaurateur with a seasonal approach to open a concept in his new project, the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver, at 1776 Champa Street.
The negotiation process was long. âThere were times when I thought the deal was dead in the water, and then all of a sudden it would resurrect,â Paul says. But the last papers have arrived at a very important moment: June 5, 2021, the last day of service for Beast + Bottle.
Paul recalls, “We were in Coperta’s basement printing out menus from last night at Beast, and Aileen and I were sitting there like, ‘Okay, that’s kinda weird.’ Like, we almost have to go there with serendipity. One door closes, another opens. “
While the Hyatt was initially interested in the Beast + Bottle name, Paul knew it wasn’t the right solution. With a bigger space and kitchen and a different clientele – largely travelers – the all-animal approach to menu design just wouldn’t be possible in this new venture. And so the Apple blossom concept was born. âWhat’s possible here,â he explains, âis to take that philosophy we’ve taken at Beast – know your farmer, know your breeder, know your fisherman, know where your food comes from – and be able to do it on a larger scale. ”
While the restaurant space was designed by Hyatt before the Reillys embarked, the Apple Blossom team were able to add some of their own touches, including a nature-inspired chalk mural hand drawn by pastry chef Jodi Polson. The restaurant opened at the end of October, four months after the Reilly signed the agreement.
Where Beast + Bottle’s menu focused on ingredients sourced from Colorado, Apple Blossom gives Paul the chance to broaden his culinary approach. “Which makes sense,” he says. “Bigger audience, bigger dining room. We’re going to need more people to help us tell these stories, so let’s extend that to the rest of the United States.”
While he still works with many Colorado suppliers including Ollin Farms, Esoterra Culinary Garden and Oxford Gardens, he now brings in other ingredients, like the uni of Santa Barbara for a pasta dish. Instead of offering a traditional meat and cheese deli program, Apple Blossom offers a taste of the South with a plate of American Country ham and chili cheese. The okra is enhanced with duck and Carolina golden rice. Even tofu turns into a buttered âsteakâ preparation made with polenta, fennel, pistachio and blood orange butter.
But there are also staples meant to appeal to hotel guests, including the AB Burger and Lamb Bolognese Rigatoni. âI was able to live my dream of being a chef in this small building,â Paul says of Beast + Bottle. “But I’ve also grown up as a chef since then and grown up as a restaurateur, and I think when you’re cooking in a hotel you have to keep travelers in mind.”
Unlike the other businesses in the Reilly, Apple Blossom serves breakfast and lunch, and also offers room service. âIt’s certainly different from a 54-seat bistro that operates five nights a week,â Paul admits. âBut I love it so far. It gives us a bigger chance to tell our story, and that means sandwiches and salads for lunch or egg dishes for breakfastâ¦ a big part of the food here is meant to be comfort food. ”
Apple Blossom chef Russ Fox started as a line cook in Coperta five years ago and had been running the kitchen there for three years. He happened to have worked in hotels, which made him happier. âHe absolutely deserved his moment to run his own kitchen and be in the spotlight,â said Paul.
Polson also already had a long-standing relationship with the Reilly. Pastry Chef at Beast + Bottle and Coperta for six years, she now heads the pastry program at Apple Blossom. âShe has truly become one of my all-time favorite people that I have worked with throughout my career,â notes Paul. “I think there is a symbiosis that we have when working together.”
At a time when staff shortages are rampant in the industry and many long-time hospitality professionals have moved into other roles or fields, Paul knows he is lucky to have a team. also solid. âI have the impression that a lot of chefs and restaurateurs don’t have this weapon in their arsenal right now,â he says. âWe’ve all been working together for a while and are slowly building a team that I think are really ready to make their mark downtown. It’s pretty exciting.â
Apple Blossom is located inside the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver at 1776 Champa Street and is open 8 am to 9 pm Monday through Sunday; the bar is open until 10 p.m. every evening. For more information visit appleblossomdenver.com.