Guest Post by Kelly Kyle
Vert Kitchen opened in 2008 with the plan of being the best sandwich shop in town. I was a loyal customer back then. My friends and I would frequent Vert as much as possible, huddled at a tiny table sharing bites and flavors. My senses were abuzz: fresh squeezed lemonade with a twist of passionfruit, an organic salad stuffed in a French baguette—mandolin sliced slivers of cucumbers and watermelon radish layered on garlicky lemon hummus, delicate greens seasoned and tossed in the house dressing of champagne vinaigrette. This was the Vegan de la Saison featured even today on our Seasonal Menu and it had me hooked. Adding fruit to a veggie sandwich caught me by surprise—like the restaurant itself, it was bright and enjoyable.
My friends ate it up, literally. Anxious to try everything on the menu, they happily indulged in the BLT, the Tortilla Espanola, the l’Entrecote, the velvety roasted tomato soup and those salty caramel Fleur de Sel cookies. But, for me, the pops of sweet juicy berries sealed the deal; making the Vegan the most intriguing sandwich I’d ever had—no small feat considering I somehow ended up making tasty lunch and sandwiches for a living. Something so simple—organic strawberries at the peak of the season, tucked into this salad on bread was something special, something elevated. A sandwich like no other.
Once I joined Noah’s team, I quickly learned that no detail was too small when it came to delighting our guests. Vert is a special destination on an unassuming residential street—an unlikely surprise to those that have never been and a welcoming familiar place to those who often return. Noah’s passion for travel, food and design are wrapped up in this tiny space. "I wanted it to be comfortable and cute" he says "a place where people could enjoy delicious food and share it with others." Elements of inspiration from touring the globe, brought back to Denver and rolled up into a single experience. The ambiance sets the tone like the comfortable home of a cherished friend. “When designing the restaurant,” he said “I sat in every seat. I looked around and experienced the space from the perspective of every table.”
Dozens of miniature Eiffel Towers adorn a shelf in this French inspired, scratch kitchen. Just as with these details, Noah does not compromise on ingredients. The fresh vegetables and fruits are organic and local whenever possible and of the highest quality. “I set out to make food that I wanted to eat,” he says, “food that I would want to share with my family and friends.”
The dining room is lined in brick and wood and green and grays. The open kitchen and the close quarters make for a cozy feel. And the cast iron skillet crackles and fries thick smoky bacon all day long. Noah bought this century-old building and stripped it down to the bricks. His original dream was to become an interior designer. This is evident in his decisions to use specific materials, textures and furnishings. Every table has two forks laid on top a cross of rolled linens, centered by a small crystal vase of fresh cut flowers. Every take-away order is wrapped in craft brown paper and tied together with a simple green ribbon. No matter where our customers enjoy their food, these aesthetic notes are a part of the experience.
In the beginning, it was all about the sandwiches. Fresh baked bread daily. The salads happened as an after-thought; the most popular was a spontaneous reaction to a craving. "I was eating a lot of sandwiches," Noah laughed, "I was gearing up for a vacation and needed to eat more salads." Not knowing what to have for lunch, he threw a bunch of food in a bowl and gave birth to the first tuna power salad. The unlikely marriage of crunchy peanut slaw and lemon tuna is now a Vert classic. Surprisingly, it wasn’t always on the menu. “We were making custom salads to order in the early days" he says. "But there was one regular—a fitness trainer that was always coming in for lunch and referring his clients. He asked about a salad recommendation and off the cuff I suggested a tuna power salad."
"I make food I want to eat," Noah confesses. “Whether you are in the supermarket or the airport or a bookstore or café, there is a need for fresh, vibrant, organic food. And I wanted to make a consistent product—elevate it with a few twists on classic flavors—and make it available on the go across the city." Just like that, Noah was yet again inspired to elevate and share his food experience, the tuna power salad got a transformative make-over—a new portable look as a packaged grab and go lunch novelty.
While travelling through NYC, San Francisco, Paris and London, Noah spent time studying metropolitan business centers and their respective grab and go concepts. "I realized that grab and go food did not have to be standard; in fact, it could be gourmet." Noah envisioned a line of food that would share the same quality standards of the restaurant but available across the metro area. As a team, we worked through lunch service, closed the restaurant in the afternoon and began to focus on pushing out dozens of to-go items. We pulled all the prep tables together, lined every square inch of them with packaging and danced around the room in a meticulous choreography of layering ingredients across the boxes.
Growing this concept was cutting edge. Building the food in recyclable containers while maintaining the shelf life and integrity of the ingredients took some trial and error. However, Noah is uncompromising on his vision. His desire for everything to be cute, consistent and delicious was implanted in our team. We had to be passionate about this food and committed to getting it right every single time. Personally, I struggled to perfectly peel the organic hard-boiled eggs. He had them seasoned with salt and pepper, nestled on a bed of arugula. It was the perfect snack—yet demanded precision and patience. “You should never eat protein without a little roughage,” he told me “wrap the egg in the peppery arugula—simple and delicious every time.”
Over the years, each element and development has been seamlessly built upon what came before it. Excellent food naturally led to delicious drinks. The espresso at Vert's coffee shop was inspired by the so-called ‘third wave’ coffee movement—locally roasted beans and shots pulled with meticulous precision. And in conjunction with the addition of dinner service, the newly acquired liquor license allowed for unique wine pairings and small-batch hand crafted cocktails. The same special touches are universal throughout the brand.
At the coffee shop, Noah was again able to use his first love, design, to focus on making an adorable, transformative, and an almost-secret location. Hidden away between two old buildings, the space is barely as wide as your outstretched arms. Subway tile opposite exposed brick, the café is European inspired. Like the small, timeless spaces of France and Italy—where espresso lovers prioritize a rich shot at the side bar on their way to wherever they’re headed. The narrow counter is antique brass salvaged from an old elevator in downtown Denver staying true to the brand's promise of sustainability.
It isn’t your typical American coffeehouse littered with computer power cords and make-shift office spaces. In fact, there is no place to sit inside. First time customers are often bewildered by this until the barista points them to the back patio. Here, an unsuspecting backyard opens to multiple separate spaces—lemon and lime bistro dining, comfy lounge chairs under large umbrellas, a long wooden bar—all outlined by pops of fresh flowers, beautiful planters and—of course—in the summer, a small garden growing herbs, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
“I was in Stockholm’ he says ‘and I needed Tylenol from the drug store. I walked into this 7Eleven that was unlike any 7Eleven I had ever seen on earth. It was modern, had a very Scandinavian design and there were the healthiest snacks in there. It wasn’t typical. I was amazed there were so many options. There was espresso and there was a young blonde woman hand rolling croissants! In 7Eleven! And I thought, this is what I need to do. This is what I need to recreate."
From sandwiches to salads and the addition of the grab and go line, Vert was growing exponentially. Lunch service was starting earlier and creeping further into the day. Soon, we expanded the hours to include breakfast and dinner. In addition to sandwiches and salads served all day we now offered a breakfast sandwich on a brioche bun, compound maple butter, roasted tomatoes, a fried egg and hand-shaped sausage patty.
The Vert menu is just as tasty at dinner as it is at lunch. In the evenings, the familiar bustling line out the door flickers into a tranquil glow. The daily battle of ‘what’s for dinner’ answered quickly by the savory l’Entrocôte—tangy walnut mustard swirled into the house vinaigrette when you order it ‘as a salad’—peppery arugula, marinated Colorado-raised wagyu skirt steak with gobs of roasted tomatoes and buttery shredded parmesan. Every menu item—whether served in the restaurant or from the grab and go line—was built on the premise of working backwards from something already familiar and making it special.
Strawberries on my sandwich was a detail I appreciated from my first taste but it wasn’t until I worked with Noah that I realized those small details are deliberate, intentional reflections of his vision. I am inspired and encouraged by collaboration and am energized by working with others. The growth of this idea—the desire to share good food with people—now extends from the restaurant, to the coffee shop to the production facility. The interconnectivity of these various concepts is based on the common desire to make something good. Noah’s passion and commitment to excellence allows this to take shape and become reality. In providing exceptional food, it is fun to take time to reflect on the past 10 years and share these recipes and the personal stories that helped create them. The food, the spaces, the drinks are all reminiscent of a comfortable place—like a family home.
Want to try Kelly's favorite sandwich?
The Vegan de la Saison, is currently on our Seasonal Menu!
A loyal customer from the beginning, Kelly is now the Director of Operations across all brands.