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Eat, drink and make money – Pioneering consumable Colorado companies

The food and beverage businesses making a splash in the state of Colorado

Lisa Ryckman //July 3, 2017//

Eat, drink and make money – Pioneering consumable Colorado companies

The food and beverage businesses making a splash in the state of Colorado

Lisa Ryckman //July 3, 2017//

LoCo Food Distribution


LoCo Food Distribution is a wholesale distributor of locally grown and locally made foods in Colorado that delivers to grocery stores, institutions, coffee shops, restaurants between Cheyenne and Colorado Springs.

PIVOTAL MOMENTS: A focus on grocery for the last four years has made LoCo the go-to, streamlined source for local Colorado products for Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Sprouts Farmers Market and Safeway.

THE DISRUPTION FACTOR: By purchasing local products, each dollar is spent an average of seven more times inside our local economy.  This strengthens not only the farmers and producers who make these products, but strengthens the entire community.

GIVING BACK: LoCo sponsors events with in-kind contributions of gift baskets and using its social media network to get the word out about special events.

ON THE HORIZON: LoCo’s work with Safeway and Sprouts Farmers Market are projected to increase as more products are being put in-line on the shelves with their appropriate categories, in addition to “Be Local” displays. It’s also seeing growth at Whole Foods and is beginning talks with Kroger. 

Maria Empanada 

A pioneering fast casual restaurant concept that specializes in empanadas.

DEFINING INNOVATION: Virtually all multi-unit operations outside the U.S. make empanadas by machine, but Maria Empanada deliberately embraces the “old school” method of folding each one by hand, bringing back a fast-disappearing art. Each flavor of empanada has its own design and crimp.

THE DISRUPTION FACTOR: Maria Empanada created a new category within the U.S. fast-food industry. Although artisanal empanadas existed before Maria Empanada, the company was the first to scale it successfully. It currently has two locations its own, and distributes to 16 other shops in the metro Denver area.

COMPANY CULTURE: Maria Empanada has a culture of “Buena Onda,” which means “good waves” or “good vibrations”; it’s a positive way of interacting, and it is the company’s mantra for both internal interaction and customer service.

GIVING BACK: The company sponsors movie nights in which it donates a portion of proceeds to local schools and gives gift cards for school raffles and prizes for those who ask. It has also donated thousands of dollars’ worth of product for children’s causes via the 20/30 Foundation.

Marczyk Fine Foods

Marczyk Fine Foods is a full-service, family owned grocery store with two Denver locations.

WHY COLORADO: Pete Marczyk moved to Denver from New England, and he dreamed of starting a grocery store like the ones he and wife Barbara Macfarlane grew up with: an urban market where the butcher knows your name, and special care is taken when choosing ingredients.

Denver has a customer base that comes from all over the U.S., and many of them were looking for the kind of store that we created,” Macfarlane says. “I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘This reminds me of a store in my hometown.’”

Denver’s health-conscious population has helped drive Marczyk’s success. “As the years have gone by, where your food comes from has become very important to shoppers,” Macfarlane says. “Is it local? Is it raised with care? Does it taste good?”

PIVOTAL MOMENTS When Marczyk Fine Foods opened, it carried Niman Ranch meat exclusively. “People were not aware how animals were raised in America and frankly did not care,” Macfarlane says. “Then the first of three huge meat recalls happened, and it was like someone dropped a bag of gold at our door.” 

DEFINING INNOVATION: Marczyk Fine Foods innovates “by going back in time,” Macfarlane says. An example: the handmade loaves Denver loves. “We also search all over the world for the best ingredients for cooks — the best olive oil, the best Italian pasta,” she says. “We see a new food culture growing all around us in the USA, mostly driven by a new generation of growers and makers of chocolate, salsas, nut butters, cheese, bacon. Farmers are growing heirloom vegetables that have been missing from our dinner plates for 50 to 100 years! We seek them out, and they seek us out.”

THE DISRUPTION FACTOR As the industry expands into 20,000-square-foot mega stores, Marczyk has purposefully stayed small. “Walk the aisles of any typical grocery store, and it’s just too much! How many choices for breakfast bars do you need? How many brands of milk? Or canned beans?” Macfarlane says. “Our product mix is not a subset of anyone else, which is unique. We sell the best ingredients for cooks who need something for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

COMPANY CULTURE: Everyone has the ability to “make it right” when things go wrong.

GIVING BACK: Marczyk’s supports farmers through its Niman Ranch Scholarship fundraisers, which include an in-store Burger Night and two “Front Porch Dinners” with the store’s top customers at Pete and Barbara’s home.  

Solar Roast Coffee

Pueblo-based Solar Roast Coffee is 100 percent USDA organic, specializing in single-origin coffees from all over the world.

WHY COLORADO: The state’s abundant sunshine makes it a natural for production of solar-roasted coffee.

PIVOTAL MOMENTS: In October 2013, Natural Grocers Vitamin Cottage accepted Solar Roast in its stores. Solar Roast immediately switched gears toward roasting coffee for grocery store chains and was able to become the single largest direct vendor into the NGVC chain. Currently it sells to 100 NGVCs as well as more than 300 independent grocery stores.

THE DISRUPTION FACTOR: SRC turned coffee roasting on its head, using solar power instead of fossil fuel for roasting and building its own custom roasters. Clients are largely independent groceries nationwide.

ON THE HORIZON: SRC just launched its products in 40 King Soopers locations from Denver to Pueblo. The company anticipates rolling out into more than 200 Kroger stores in the next couple of years, adding roasting capacity and employees, as well as another possible retail location.

Stem Ciders

The company produces and sells dry cider.

PIVOTAL MOMENTS: In August 2016, craft brewer Odell Brewing Co. agreed to partner with Stem and utilize its sales force to sell Stem products to its existing and potential new accounts throughout Colorado, Illinois and other markets across the country. In February 2017, Stem Ciders broke ground to build a $7million restaurant, taproom and production facility on four acres in Lafayette. It will continue operation at the RiNo Taproom as well.

THE DISRUPTIONL FACTOR: Stem Ciders has brought dry, craft ciders into the mainstream. When Stem was founded in 2013, dry ciders were not a popular choice, nor were there many to choose from. Dry ciders were primarily produced by small, orchard-based, artisanal cider makers and were primarily offered in large bottles rather than a smaller, more marketable format. Stem created a dry, craft cider with all attention and focus on ingredients to compete in the same space as the larger, mass-produced products.

GIVING BACK: Stem selects one charity each year that it supports in a comprehensive way, including in-kind giving, sponsorship of events and a donation of all proceeds from Stem’s annual CiderGrass event.

Shine Community

Shine Community is a restaurant and event space as well as an herbal functional beverage company, Shine Potions, and an award-winning brewery, Shine Brewing Co.

WHY COLORADO: Triplets Jill, Jessica and Jennifer Emich came to Colorado because they love the outdoor lifestyle as well as the way spiritual life, home life and work life all intersect in Boulder. “The people here are conscientious of how they are living,” Jill says.

PIVOTAL MOMENTS: After serving in their own restaurant for four years, in January 2016, the sisters’ Shine Potions, a ready-to-drink herbal beverage, hit store shelves. The February issue of National Geographic lists Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place as a place to visit when in Colorado.

DEFINING INNOVATION: Co-owner/sister Jessica Emich has a master’s degree in holistic nutrition, which leads to a menu of nutritionally inspired comfort food, all gluten-free and made from scratch. “Our competitive advantage in doing all of this is our steadfast loyalty from customers who really care about what they are putting in their bodies or have sensitivities (and/or) allergies,” Jill says. “There is a trust between us and our clients that is often acknowledged and shows in repeat business.”

THE DISRUPTION FACTOR: Shine goes beyond organic or farm to table by using preparation techniques to make sure the food is assimilated and properly digested.

COMPANY CULTURE: Shine considers itself a gathering place for people to congregate, celebrate, transform and heal together in community. “The three of us that are the owners are also triplets and we feel that we represent a core community or nucleus within a bigger community,” Jill says. “We are constantly communicating, navigating, and negotiating with each other and we do it with care, intention and kindness that spills out into the team.” The company teaches team members about food philosophy and how to nourish themselves and others. Free yoga classes, live music and festival tickets are among the perks.

GIVING BACK: Every year, Shine participates in Cultiva-Growing Gardens' benefit dinner that supports teaching kids about growing food. The company donates the food and cooks a course for 300 people. 

Two Leaves and a Bud Tea Company

The company sells super-premium, certified organic, fairly traded teas.

DEFINING INNOVATION: Two Leaves was an early adopter of the whole leaf tea sachet. Its latest release, Purpose-Filled Teas, supports an active lifestyle with flavors like “Hydrate” and “Detox,” with 1 percent of sales going to

COMPANY CULTURE: Two Leaves is committed to organic, to small farmers and to education. The team works tirelessly to find fresh tea bushes grown organically from scratch. This team is also one of the founding members of the TRUST Organic Small Farmers Initiative. Employees have flexible schedules to leave time for everything from kids’ doctor’s appointments to getting out to hike, ski or bike.

GIVING BACK: The company supports causes that focus on mountain environment and education, including Protect Our Winters and NOLS, a nonprofit global Wilderness School. It is a station sponsor of We-Cycle, a local bike-share program that aims to reduce Aspen’s carbon footprint. Support also goes to Basalt High School and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Two Leaves dedicates a portion of sales to the Whole Planet Foundation, which funds poverty alleviation efforts worldwide.