Vegan Dining Scene Growing Up in Colorado

Photos: Chelsea Chorpenning

Photos: Chelsea Chorpenning

A New Earth-Friendly Option in Denver, Plus Three More Around the State

By Steve Graham

Many restaurants tout their sustainability measures, from compostable straws to solar panels. The brand new Somebody People in central Denver takes its eco-friendly practices to the next level.

“I have been wanting to open my own restaurant for a while, and I decided the way forward for restaurants is to try to reduce the use of meat,” said Sam Maher, who opened Somebody People in September with his wife, Tricia.

The Mahers are both vegan, so they are excited to be able to eat everything on their creative, Mediterranean-inspired menu. But they also see the elimination of animal products as a way to shrink their environmental footprint. Even the wine list is organic and vegan.

They also salvaged shelving from the old Denver Tea Room, which used to occupy their space at 1165 S. Broadway. They made tabletops from beetle-kill wood and bar stools from pineapple leather. 

“Sustainability was a part of the whole design process,” Tricia said.

They are also trying to help customers consider waste, asking them to bring their own containers for leftovers. No disposable packaging is available.

“We encourage people to change habits and set them up for success,” Tricia said.

She said a recent trip back to their native Australia was an awakening. In Sydney, she noticed very few people were drinking from disposable cups.

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On the other hand, the Mahers take themselves far less seriously than they take the environment. They take pride in their casual, fun service, and in their bright, beach-y décor and murals.

They also named the restaurant for a David Bowie quote from the song “Five Years.” 

“We thought it was quite light-hearted,” Sam said, laughing that some customers and contractors have offered their own takes on the name.

“The guy at the paint shop … said ‘That’s f---ing hipster,’” Sam mused. “I said, ‘yeah, I suppose it is.’”

The menu is less hipster. It draws on influences from around the Mediterranean, and is built around an expensive, fancy and beautiful pasta extruder.

“It’s nice and fresh and light,” Sam said. “It’s very tasty.”

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Chef Ernesto Torres worked with Sam at Mercantile Dining and Provision, and now offers a menu of about 14 vegan items from a sunflower seed hummus to house-made (of course) Funghetto pasta with carrot Bolognese.

Wines are sourced from all over the world, focusing on the Mediterranean, but also including the Mahers’ native Australia. The list of about 60 wines is entirely comprised of vegan, unrefined, organic and biodynamic wines.

The Mahers also flew in an old friend, the award-winning Hung Nguyen, to create a “super playful” juice-based cocktail menu, which was a huge hit in the first weeks after opening, Sam said.

Somebody People is slated to open for lunch around the end of October.

Here are three more good vegan options around Colorado.

Piante Pizzeria

You think a pizza shop has to serve traditional mozzarella and real pepperoni? Think again. Piante pizzeria in Breckenridge has earned rave reviews for a totally plant-based, wood-fired kitchen.

There’s still mozzarella, but it’s made with cashews, not cow milk. Likewise, the pepperoni, sausage and bacon are made with shiitake mushrooms and other vegan ingredients. Diners even love the gluten-free crust, which is rarely up to snuff.

The pizzeria also offers a vegan twist on traditional appetizers and desserts, with dairy-free bruschetta, garlic knots, cheesecake and tiramisu. 

The Gold Leaf Collective

Across from the Colorado State University campus, you’ll find the expected cheap pizza joints, fast casual franchises, smoothie shops and the Gold Leaf, a small and unassuming café serving $15 sandwiches with fairly common names and decidedly uncommon ingredients.

The Po Boy, for example, replaces the standard catfish or shrimp with lion’s mane hearty and flavorful mushrooms. You won’t miss the steak or the cheese in the Philly, packed with crispy seitan and vegan mozzarella.

The Gold Leaf also serves as the home base for two food trucks that bring the same quality vegan ingredients to breweries, events and food truck rallies.

Sita’s Kitchen

Sita’s Kitchen is a funky little part of the cultural renaissance in Trinidad. It is best known as an acclaimed vegan bakery, but Sita’s also serves soups, salads, wraps, bowls and more, and even delivers them around the downtown Trinidad area. The menu changes daily.

Click here for more vegan options around Colorado.