What 43 Hours In Denver Taught Me About Fast Casual

The Fresh Hospitality crew once again piled onto a plane for 3 hours for another crash course in Fast Casual restaurants. This time our destination was the mile high city – Denver – arguably the birthplace of Fast Casual itself (Chipotle, anyone?) and most definitely one of the most forward looking restaurant cities in America (especially in the fast casual space).

We strapped in on the AM Southwest Flight and go into Denver in time to eat lunch at least 3 or 4 times.

I will spare you the details of everywhere we visited (my stomach is still about to explode days later) but I wanted to share the highlights. I will tell you about the top 2 fast casual spots we visited and give you a couple lessons that we took away from the visit.

This is the first post in what will be a series about our trip to Denver to scout out some big competitors and learn more about them. These are just the raw facts and our thoughts from the trip – hope you enjoy.



One of the main focuses of our journey was to check out Garbanzo – what we considered a major competitor to Taziki’s. Garbanzo has ~10 locations in and around Denver and is actually being developed by the founder of Panera Bread.

Fresh Baked Pitas For Sale

Garbanzo had a few strengths – mainly their almost overpowering emphasis on how FRESH and HEALTHY their food is (more on there here) and their use of Fresh Baked Pita’s. They sell the fresh baked pitas at the checkout and they also situate the pita machine so it’s the first thing you see when you are standing in line.

Close up of the Pita Oven

 Pita Oven At the Line

 Garbanzo emphasized a “try anything on our menu” sample policy encouraging customers to have a taste of their Falafel, fresh pita, etc. They had the below sign and also had employees basically begging us to take free samples (of the falafel in particular). The staff at both stores was also very friendly – sometimes so friendly they were almost in your face

Sample Anything

 Overall – Garbanzo seemed to be a more fast food version of Roti – featuring a “build your own” menu, serve your own drinks etc and the decor was sparse and felt like a converted McDonalds the service model felt almost purely fast food – no table interaction at all as you got your dish at the cash register and the food was served with plastic trays.

Wanna see where we went next? Find part two of our scouting trip right here.

Let me know what you think about these lessons and stay tuned here and on Twitter to keep up with Fresh Hospitality’s adventures.

Matt Bodnar

Matt loves to focus on making deals and big picture strategy. He sets out each day to give more than he takes from every interaction and produce as much value as possible for his partners and the people he works with. As a partner at Fresh Hospitality Matt invests in and operates businesses across the restaurant value chain including agriculture, production, retail distribution, real estate, technology and restaurant operations. Matt previously worked as an import/export consultant in Nanjing, China and spent several years on the Interest Rates Desk at Goldman Sachs before returning to his family roots in Nashville.