Grocery market evolves on Westside
Back in the day, Old Colorado City had grocery markets on practically ever corner. Such a proliferation may never return, but
the former municipality does have at least one place now where people can shop for selected fresh or frozen entrees, meat,
cheeses, pasta, soups, produce, rolls, desserts, coffee or packaged food.
Garden of the Gods Gourmet Market & Catering, owned by Holly Mervis and Sandra Vander-stoep, opened this spring in a 2,700-square-foot building at 2528 W. Cucharras St. The business, which also includes a large kitchen where much of the food is prepared, additionally offers catering services for small and large occasions.
The business had been in a smaller, less prominent site off South 21st Street for the past four years. The two owners, who have been partners for about six years, agree that at the outset they never foresaw the operation heading in this direction.
It began when Mervis, former co-owner of La Petite Maison, the French-cuisine restaurant on Colorado Avenue, moved on to create her own herbal seasonings. Marketing them as Garden of the Gods Seasonings, she allied with Vanderstoep, a specialist in business start-ups, in hopes of finding a regional and national niche for the product.
This did not succeed quite to the extent the pair had hoped - although the seasonings have attained some regional distribution (and will be in offered at the soon-to-open Ranch House restaurant on Garden of the Gods Road).
In the meantime, Mervis said she decided, “to get back to cooking,” and after a while she found herself developing a catering business and (for a three-year span) doing school lunches out of the kitchen at the Colorado Springs School.
Additionally, she started making spring rolls to sell at the summer Farmers' Market next to Bancroft Park. Vanderstoep enjoys telling the rest of that story. “After the season ended, the phone started ringing,” she said. “People called, saying, 'We're addicted, what do we do?' ”
Thus began an unplanned small market on 21st Street. Along with the seasonings and the bread, Mervis cooked (at the school kitchen) additional delicacies and ordered selectively chosen products - including jams and coffees and locally grown produce - from small area businesses she valued.
The Cucharras site (formerly the home of Royal Tire) allows not only more market space and coolers and space for fresh food, but a long-desired in-house kitchen. “We have it all under one roof now, which is wonderful, as you can imagine,” Mervis said. The market is currently about 600 square feet, but could expand to 1,000, she added.
There's no plan to compete with major groceries. Asked, for example, how she would respond if customers asked her to start carrying colby cheese (currently goat cheese is a market specialty), Mervis said she'd say, “Probably not, because you can get that anywhere.”
As for the future of Garden of the Gods Gourmet Market & Catering, Vanderstoep could only say that success will probably hinge on continuing to work hard and remain flexible.
“This is just an evolutionary step in response to market demand,” she said. “You may think you know what direction you want to go, but the (economic) market gives you clues as to what you might have missed.”
Westside Pioneer article