6 Rising-Star Food Artisans in Denver/Boulder

By Ruth Tobias  |  April 7, 2014

Combine a young, adventurous, DIY-minded population with a local government that’s relatively friendly to cottage industries, and you get Colorado, a food producer’s paradise as well as a microbrewing mecca. Beyond farmer's markets, the shelves of gourmet retailers like Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe in LoHi and Boulder’s Cured are crammed with locally made hot sauces, jams, chocolates and so on, while The Source is a veritable shrine to artisans with cult followings. So who’s the next Helliemae’s Handcrafted Caramels, Elevation KetchupBabettes Artisan BreadsTender Belly or The Real Dill? We’re placing bets on the fruits of these labors of love.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Black Squirrel Granola

    Why we love it: Helliemae's own Ellen Daehnick let us in on this little secret, calling it a “grown-up’s granola: not very sweet, lots of nuts, deeply toasted.” She nailed it. Founder Natalie Sangviriyakul uses “two to three times as many nuts as everyone else to ensure that perfect bite, and about half the sweetener,” namely maple syrup; there's also extra-virgin coconut oil "for warmth." The result is a sophisticated breakfast treat that could almost double as a bar snack.   
    Signature item: Right now, Sangviriyakul makes four flavors: maple-almond-pecan, blueberry-coconut, cherry-golden raisin and our earthy, tangy favorite, cherry-pistachio. But seasonal specialties are also in the works.
    Where to buy: Launched back in October, Black Squirrel is currently only available via direct orders at
    Where to try: Unless, that is, you happen to attend a morning conference at the Four Seasons Denver, whose banquet staff is featuring the granola. If that isn't a major seal of approval, we don't know what is.

  • Cocktail Punk

    Why we love it: Raymond Snead is a fast-rising star in the cocktail world for a very simple reason: he’s eschewing “Sriracha-lavender or whatever” to concoct meticulous, classic small-batch bitters that do exactly what they're supposed to: “stand alone but also work in a range of cocktails.”
    Signature item: Of the six varieties on offer, from cherry to the anise-tinted Pastiche we dig, Snead says that “bartenders are loving the Smoked Orange. They’re using it a lot in tequila and mezcal drinks, because it is smoky, but it’s not a barbecue; it also has some mint in it for complexity.”
    Where to buy: Local retailers like Divino in Platt Park and Boulder Wine Merchant are stockpiling the stuff.
    Where to try: So are area bars and restaurants, including Basta and Fuel. For that matter, so are far-flung establishments from Napa Valley to New York, where Snead began to “get a little toehold” just last week. For a complete list, click here

  • Gypsy Juice

    Why we love it: Easy: Nikki Hazamy and Donna Dempsey’s organic, cold-pressed juices are just as savory and richly spiced as they are fruity.
    Signature item: The current lineup features four different blends; our top picks are the Bon Vivant - unusually well-balanced for its loads of kale, spinach, cucumber, parsley, romaine, apple, lemon and ginger - and the invigorating Galbi, with carrot, apple, ginger and turmeric.
    Where to buy: The duo calls themselves gypsies with good cause: by the end of this month, they’ll be rolling out a street cart and delivery service. 
    Where to try: In the meantime, you’ll find their juices at Z Cuisine, at Root Down on Raw Night, and at Atticus, which serves them both plain and in cocktails.

  • Credit: Norman Dillon Photography

    Lucille’s Artisan Confections

    Why we love it: “When people tell me they don’t like marshmallows, I say, ‘No, you don’t like chemical-filled crap.’” That’s how Susan Dillon explains the allure of her fluffy cubes of goodness, whose texture is a far cry from that of their glossy, gelatinous factory-made counterparts. But here’s how we embellish that explanation: wacky flavors like apple cider, wasabi pea and coconut-jelly bean wow even jaded palates. With husband-partner Norman, Dillon also turns out marshmallow-filled cookies and chocolate bark in wild array.
    Signature item: The Diablo, which boasts what Dillon calls “a good chunk” of cayenne and cinnamon: “People are surprised at how spicy a confection can be.” 
    Where to buy: Mondo Market at The Source.
    Where to try: Collaboration is the name of the game in a tight-knit town like Denver, and the Dillons play it well with Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Happy Leaf Kombucha and Black Shirt Brewing Co. to turn out creations like Ethiopian espresso, cranberry-lavender and red porter, respectively. Then they partner up for party time, be it last week’s s’mores party at Black Shirt or this week’s celebration of spring carrots at Happy Leaf. Check Facebook for details.

  • Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha

    Why we love it: From local cold-pressed fruit to farm-sourced organic tea and wild herbs, the owners of this spanking-new brewery are keeping their kombucha as pure as the filtered Colorado snowmelt they use for water. 
    Signature item: It’s too early to tell which of their seven flavors will prevail with customers, but the Deep Forest with reishi mushrooms and sassafras and the honeydew melon- and violet-based Morning Dew have us at hello.  
    Where to buy: At 5 PM on Saturday, April 12, Rowdy’s rather-gorgeous taproom celebrates its grand opening with a food truck and a DJ. 2516 49th St. Unit 2, Boulder.
    Where to try: In addition, you’ll find its brews at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, which opened for the season last Saturday. 

  • Rosenberg’s Bagels

    Why we love it: A fifth-generation New Yorker, Joshua Pollack doesn’t dare boil his dough in plain old Denver water - first he adapts it to more closely replicate the mineral content of his hometown's H20. That should tell you all you need to know about the thought that goes into the bagels that bear his mother's maiden name.
    Signature item: No bacon-chocolate chip monstrosities here - the flavors are as traditional as the starting recipe. We're partial to the everything bagel, with its textbook chewiness, light crunch, heft and proper dusting of poppy and sesame seeds with garlic, onion and salt.
    Where to buy: Fingers crossed: Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen should be open at 725 East 26th Street by the end of May. After that, Pollack promises, "We will expand into other places quite rapidly." Watch the Facebook page for developments. 
    Where to try: Until then, keep scooping them up (but not out - that's heresy) at Golden Triangle cafe Gather

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Bonus: Three More to Try…

    These three artisans have been on our radar screen for a while now, but we couldn’t resist giving them a shout out just in case you've somehow missed them. 

    Modern Gingham Preserves 
    Katharine Lee’s hyperlocal jams and marmalades burst with handpicked fruit and lots of subtle twists, from flowers to herbs. Buy them at Bin 1884 Cheese Bar - or drink them at The Curtis Club, which uses the apple-chai flavor in cocktails. 

    Ritual Chocolate 
    Lately, these organic, single-origin, nothing-like-candy bars are everywhere - including at the tasting room of RiNo winery Infinite Monkey Theorem, which hosts wine-and-chocolate pairings throughout the year. 

    Zaza Raw 
    Catering to all dietary lifestyles, this Boulder-based dessert company makes a shockingly velvety, rich-but-not-cloying vegan chocolate ganache we can’t pass up on trips to Natural Grocers. Zeal: Food for Enthusiasts features owner Elizabeth Saucier’s raw cheesecakes (pictured) as well.