Comal, a beloved nonprofit Denver restaurant, is searching for a new chef

For six years, and with the help of two supervising chefs, Comal Heritage Food Incubator has worked with nearly 40 immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs, training them to start their own food businesses.

But coming out of a long stretch of pandemic setbacks, the nonprofit lunch restaurant needs help securing a longer future in Denver, starting with the hiring of a new head chef.

“We’re looking for a really special person who can both manage a non-profit training program and run a full-fledged lunch restaurant,” said Matthew Vernon, chief of program operations for Focus Points Family Resource Center, Comal’s parent organization.

By mid-September, Comal’s current program manager, Arden Lewis, will leave the restaurant for a move back east following his three-year Denver stint. In a letter to Comal participants this week, Lewis congratulated the hard work of all the food entrepreneurs who worked alongside him throughout the pandemic.

“As the future of the hospitality industry, you bring a passion for, and knowledge of, your heritages that is very much communicated through your food, as just about anyone who has been lucky enough to experience a meal from Comal can attest to,” Lewis wrote. “You are poised to change the landscape of the hospitality industry and usher in a new era of community-minded entrepreneurs, opening people’s minds and mouths to new and delicious experiences!”

During weekday lunches over the course of six years, Comal’s chefs have practiced to open their own hospitality businesses by preparing dishes and drinks from their native countries — Mexico, Venezuela, Syria and Ethiopia, to name a few. Out of nearly 40 program participants to date, four have gone on to open their own businesses.

But in 2020, Comal’s revenue plummeted by 95%. A year later, even as the lunch spot landed on The New York Times’ annual “Restaurant List” alongside 49 other national eateries, Comal was still awaiting assistance from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which it never received.

Vernon says that Focus Points was able to use its own funds to keep Comal’s staff employed over the past two and a half years. Now he’s hoping that fundraising efforts and expanded offerings can bring in $250,000 by the end of 2022, and $750,000 by summer 2023.

A new liquor license will add beer, wine and cocktails to the menu options, and programming such as afternoon language classes could bring a renewed awareness and new customer base to the store positioned between Globeville and Elyria-Swansea in Five Points.

“For us, staying open, serving our guests (and) continuing to serve our participants is the heart and core of why we do this,” Vernon said.

Together with Lewis, he’s starting the search for Comal’s third chef-leader (Tim Bender, the program’s founding chef, left in 2019). The position is posted on Craigslist and will pay $50,000-$55,000 annually.

“It really takes a special person with a lot of lived experience, as an immigrant or refugee, or a close understanding of the populations we serve,” Vernon said. “That deep empathy, and also knowing that at the end of the day the job has to get done.”

If you go: Comal is open at 3455 Ringsby Court, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Find more information at

You can visit Comal participants’ own food businesses, too. Find Erika Rojas at Prieto’s Catering & Food Truck,; Silvia Hernandez at Silvia at Lost City,, and La Catrina Grill; and Sara Gebre at Jabena Ethiopian Coffee & Culture,

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