It’s hard to think of an American city that isn’t experiencing a restaurant boom these days. Put Denver at the top of that list: By some accounts, 30 spots will have opened this spring, including the new Departure Denver, a popular Asian small-plates spot recently transplanted from Portland, Ore., and an outpost of the beloved New York bar, Death & Company on the way.
However, the city is facing a major problem as a result of one of its biggest recent tourism drivers. The pot industry is taking a toll on local restaurant work forces and in some cases, liquor sales. “No one is talking about it,” said Bobby Stuckey, the James Beard award winning co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder and the soon-to-open Tavernetta in Denver. “But Colorado’s restaurant labor market is in Defcon 5 right now, because of weed facilities.”
Denver’s population has been steadily growing. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the best place to live in the country because of its proximity to the great outdoors, along with the tech boom, among other things. The city is particularly popular with millennials. A boom in restaurants soon followed, transforming a sleepy culinary scene into a particularly vibrant one. (Another reason for the expanding dining scene is the $54 million Union Station renovation, which opened in 2014 and brought a concentration of fine dining spots downtown.)
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