Trillium Rises Above Risky Business

Rick Cummings

A unique menu, characterized by Scandinavian culinary techniques, pulls Denver diners to the edgy Ballpark district.

Owner: Ryan Leinonen
Location: Denver
Description: Scandinavian-American Fusion
Opened: December 2011

Opening an upscale restaurant in the midst of a major urban-infill project is a risky proposition. But since he brought Trillium to Denver’s Ballpark district in December of 2011, Chef Ryan Leinonen’s Scandinavian-American fusion concept has hit a home run with professional critics, local foodies, residents, and visitors.

“Five years ago, if you wanted drugs, you came to this neighborhood,” says the 36-year-old Michigan native, who moved to Denver in 2003. “Even when I began looking at spaces two years ago, this block was still a little shady, but it gets better every year.”

Named for its proximity to the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, and situated adjacent to downtown Denver, the Ballpark district was for years a downtrodden industrial area. Now, through extensive renovation of its historic buildings as well as new construction, it is becoming a vibrant neighborhood with a growing number of high-end retail establishments and residences, including three multi-story, luxury apartment buildings.

Leinonen says he chose this area because he wanted to be part of the revitalization. With all of its promise, though, the area is still a work in progress, and he cautions that being a part of this kind of ambitious renewal program is definitely not for the faint of heart or the short of funds.

“Whatever budget you set for getting your restaurant up and running, add 50 percent to that [number] to make sure you can make it through the first year no matter what,” he says.

“No matter what” could be the stove breaking a week after its warranty expires, a prolonged lull in business that might go for several nights (or even several weeks), or a payroll tax hike. “With bank loans hard to come by, having a cash cushion is crucial,” he says.

Initially, Leinonen had hoped he could count on the city of Denver for some urban-renewal financial assistance, particularly because he was renovating a building that was more than a century old for his restaurant.

“Ten years ago when the economy was better, financial assistance would probably have been available,” he says. “But now just about every major city is cash-strapped, which means you’re pretty much on your own.”



It would be an interesting study to look at the success of restaurants which jump on board downtown revitalization projects across our nation. Is there a greater risk or a more likely reward to restaurants that act during times of city renovation? Do the costs and the "no matter what" funds differ for these restaurants than others? The media alone could boost business...but how long does it last? The savvy restaurant owner would know how to create new waves and maintain that high volume of attention years down the road. http://www.restaurantfurniture...


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