When Curtis Park Deli first opened in the neighborhood that would become RiNo in Denver, the place was a food desert. That was a big reason Michael Reif and his original business partner, Joe Walker, created the place.
Inspired by Marczyk Fine Foods, the duo opened what was formerly a fish shop as a high-end local grocery. There were already cases for meat and cheese and just enough space to stock goods the pair figured would be a nice addition to the area.
They also started making sandwiches. Both Reif and Walker had spent a decent part of their grown lives working in restaurants. Reif largely focused on the front-of-house, having previously worked at several of Denver’s old haunts including Alto, an Italian joint, and Twelve, Jeff Osaka’s former fine-dining establishment that brought the chef plenty of clout before he turned his attention to Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama.
“Let’s stop working for the man and do our own thing,” the pair agreed. Walker, a New Zealand native who has since returned home, developed much of the menu that can still be found at all three Curtis Park Deli locations.
“He was the food guy, I was the stuff guy,” says Reif.
The menu is still a compact list of largely classic combinations.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to do it correctly. Make sure it’s very round,” says Reif. “There’s a reason the Manhattan [cocktail] has never changed,” he continues, noting that while the sandwiches may look simple on paper, they were carefully designed with balanced flavors in mind.
Reif and Walker ran the original location by themselves for the first several years. And what started as 80% of sales being sandwiches didn’t take long to become the entire business. By the time the second location opened, the grocery had become a full-fledged sandwich shop. “Good product and word of mouth made it a destination,” Reif says.
On March 3, Curtis Park Deli debuted its third location on the corner of 30th and Pearl in Boulder. Reif and his newer business partner, Dash Harrison, had been looking for another spot since before COVID. The duo had opened the second Cherry Creek deli together in April 2018, hoping to tap into the neighborhood’s sizable need for lunch catering.
“We already had brand recognition. People were waiting for us to open,” Reif says.
Even though Walker returned to New Zealand in 2015, the menu has been consistent under Reif and Harrison’s direction.
“We made some evolutions in Cherry Creek and those followed us here,” Reif says. When Reif bought out Walker, the split was amicable. In fact, Walker owns a couple of sister restaurants on the other side of the globe, two locations of The Hokitika Sandwich Shop, which share the same horse-drawn carriage logo and many of the same sandos as Curtis Street.
Each morning, all three locations receive a shipment of loaves from Denver’s City Bakery. There’s a limited allotment, so when the bread runs out, the staff packs up for the day and heads home.
“It adds to the allure of fresh food. Fresh food is not infinite,” says Reif, likening the concept to famous Texas barbecue spots.
At the two Denver locations, the sandwiches often do sell out before closing time. And for good reason. Each of the nine available items is a powerfully good sandwich.
“People ordering don’t need a cereal aisle of items,” Reif says.
It helps that the condiments, including aioli, pesto, mustard and Thousand Island, are made fresh everyday. The Boulder location is also the first of the three that Reif and Harrison designed from scratch, building out an ideal line for proper sandwich construction.
As far as the sandwiches themselves, there’s not a single wrong option. The American, with oven-roasted turkey, tomato, red onion, aioli, mixed greens and smoked gouda is a house favorite. The Curtis comes with corned beef, swiss cheese, Thousand Island and caraway-laced sauerkraut that was made to emulate rye bread. And for vegetarians and omnivores alike there’s The Veggie, with portobello mushroom, red pepper, zucchini, red onion, goat cheese and pesto.
While the hours are currently meant for lunch crowds, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day but Sunday, Reif says the team may extend the Boulder location’s hours into the evening and even late night if the demand is there. And while street parking is nonexistent, there is a free two-hour window in the REVE Appartment’s garage that connects to Curtis Park’s back entrance.
Curtis Park has been slinging sandwiches for over a decade. It’s about time Boulder diners can join in and delight in the gourmet.