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