Vesta Dipping Grill owner Josh Wolkon reflects on fifteen years of success
His long, lanky body clad in a T-shirt, knee-length shorts and Converse tennis shoes, Josh Wolkon slips into a booth at Steuben's, orders a Pimms cocktail and stretches his arms. The last few months have been a whirlwind for the owner of Steuben's, which he unleashed in Uptown in 2007. Next month, he'll open Ace Eat Serve, a 9,000-square-foot ping pong-themed playground that pimps Asian cuisine.
But before any of that, there was Vesta Dipping Grill, one of the first restaurants to open in LoDo, long before the downtown enclave became a breeding ground for fashionable restaurants, cocktail bars and nightclubs -- long before Wolkon, who opened Vesta in 1997, along with his wife, Jen, would become a respected household name in the restaurant industry. Next month marks Vesta's fifteen-year anniversary.
"My dream in high school and throughout college was to own my own restaurant," says the Boston native, who managed a Westin hotel in his native city, before moving to Boulder post-college in 1993, where he was a cook at the now defunct Oasis Brewery, part of the opening team of the Foundry, which had a thirteen-year run in Boulder until it closed in 2009, and a staff member at A Spice of Life Catering, which is still going strong since its inception in 1987.
But that was just prep work for the restaurant he would eventually open at the age of 26. "I'd been working on a business plan for Vesta, and to be honest, I thought I'd be opening it in Boston," says Wolkon, but his real estate agent convinced him to look in Denver, specifically LoDo. "I remember thinking that I knew nothing about downtown Denver, except the 16th Street Mall -- I didn't understand what Denver was," he admits.
His real estate agent, however, sold him on the idea -- and the price per square foot, which was way less than anything in Boulder, was appealing to Wolkon. But it was the promise of a proposed new Stadium Walk, a big-name tenant development and movie theater that had Arnold Schwarzenegger's name attached to it, that sealed the deal. Wolken signed a lease on the space in 1996, figuring that if the concept of Vesta failed, he "could always do burgers. Either way, I couldn't lose," he reasons.