Peace, love, profit: the “Stanifesto” of Stanley Marketplace that lured big names in Denver dining

The first thing you’ll want to know about Stanley Marketplace, the new urban bazaar/food hall in northwest Aurora bordering Stapleton, is that there’s good food there. Lots of good food. We could leave it at that, because for most of us that’s the bottom line, but there’s more.

The second thing that you may want to know about Stanley is that it operates under something called the “Stanifesto.” That document has lots of hippie-sounding phrases like “Be good and do good,” “Leave each place better than you found it,” and “Every day is an opportunity to put goodness into the world.”

Yes, it really says these things.

“I guess some of it can sound hokey, but we’re working hard to back it up,” said Bryant Palmer, chief storyteller at Stanley. (Yes, again, that’s really his title.)

This all starts to make a little more sense when you learn the background of the development. It was started by Mark Shaker, whose background is not as a developer, restaurateur or really anything that would prepare someone for opening a 140,000-square foot, 54-business mixed-use marketplace. No, he was a social worker.

Shaker had just gotten back from working in West Africa and was living in Stapleton. Lamenting the lack of local spaces where friends and family could hang out together and get something good to eat and drink, he decided to open a beer garden — in Stapleton. That’s when the city of Aurora came calling.

They liked his vision —  in fact, “vision” is a word that comes up a lot when talking with people at Stanley —  and they showed him properties in Aurora, trying to woo him and his beer garden to their side of the tracks. Stanley — formerly Stanley Aviation, which manufactured airplane ejection seats from 1954 until being completely abandoned in 2008 —  was his favorite location, but it was way too big for a beer garden.

Right around then he started getting calls from local business owners who’d heard about what he wanted to create. Could they get in on this, too? they asked. That’s when the real vision for Stanley Marketplace —  in all its Bohemian, work-together-for-the-greater-good glory — was born.

“We wanted to create a like-minded community,” Shaker said. (“Community” is another word you hear a lot at Stanley.) “Business owners want something special, they want to work with the best in their class. Everyone’s mentality is ‘I want to work with the best operators.’ ”

So Shaker went out and got them. Rosenberg’s Bagels, definitely one of the city’s best, signed on early, as did Comida and Mondo Market. Along the way, Shaker attracted Logan House Coffee Company, Sweet Cow Ice Cream and Annette, a fine-dining restaurant from first-time restaurant owner Caroline Glover (formerly a sous chef at Acorn).

Maria Empanada owner Lorena Cantarovici was heartbroken when she learned that Stanley was fully leased, but the stars aligned, someone moved out and she snagged the smallest stall in the building. The Infinite Monkey Theorem just opened a large tap room. A super-sustainable pizzeria, Sazza, is moving in, and the owners are building a farm across the street so they can grow their own ingredients. (Of course they are.)

Not everyone was immediately sold on opening their business —  especially the 17 of the 54 spots that are first-time companies —  inside a long-abandoned manufacturing plant in Aurora, though. Of all the burgeoning hot spots in and around Denver, Aurora doesn’t usually register as one of the cool kids.

“My real estate agent brought me here and I was like, ‘Absolutely not,’ ” Glover said of opening Annette inside Stanley. “It felt like a huge mall. But Mark’s vision got me on board, and it’s played out.”

Andre Janusz, co-owner of Logan House Coffee Company, which started as a coffee roastery in a RiNo commercial space, also took some convincing.

“I walked into the meeting (with Shaker) thinking we’re not doing a coffee shop. I walked out saying, ‘Dammit, we’re doing a coffee shop.’ The concept just sounded so cool, and I just loved the idea. He had a unique, outstanding vision,” Janusz said.

The Stanifesto —  the written expression of Shaker’s vision —  is what many business owners cited as the reason they wanted to be a part of the project. One of its maverick declarations is “We believe there’s no point in making a profit if you’re not also making a difference.” Another is “We embrace collaboration, and curiosity, too.”

That commune sensibility is on display in the relationships the businesses have with each other. The chocolatier, Miette et Chocolat, partnered with the brewery, Cheluna Brewing Co., to create a beer called Coco-Xoco. Sweet Cow took that beer and made an ice cream out of it. Glazed & Confused, opening April 20, plans on making a doughnut ice cream sandwich with friends at Sweet Cow. (“A lot of collaborations,” Glazed owner Josh Schwab said of what to expect from his new Stanley spot. There will even be corned beef kolaches made in conjunction with Rosenberg’s Bagels.)

Similarly, Miette et Chocolat makes the chocolate sauce for Logan House’s mocha lattes. Logan House pays it forward by selling breakfast burritos from its neighbor, Comida. Comida displays flowers from fellow Stanley resident Poppy & Pine floral design. If you get hungry while drinking wine at The Infinite Monkey Theorem’s third-floor tap room, you can order up food from Comida or other restaurant tenants. IMT donated old wine barrels to the Cheluna brewery.

There are no stand-alone businesses here. Everything is connected.

“One of the things that makes us feel like we’re doing something right is watching businesses do things together. Not because we told them to, but because it makes sense,” Palmer said.

Not everything is up and running in Stanley yet. A good deal of the space is still a full-on construction zone, but Shaker and Palmer said all of the businesses should be open by the beginning of May.

“There are moments our group steps back and pinches ourselves because it’s such a great group of operators,” Palmer said. “It’s so fulfilling to be a part of the local food community.”

“Community” and “vision”? Yes, they’re drinking the Kool-Aid out east at Stanley. But even if your rose-colored glasses aren’t quite so rosy these days, just remember the first thing you’ll want to know about Stanley Marketplace: There’s good food there. Lots of good food.

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