They might be his concepts, but Frank Bonanno is out of the Milk Market.
The prominent Denver restaurateur has sold the food hall he opened in 2018 in the Dairy Block project at 1800 Wazee St. to Sage Hospitality.
Denver-based Sage, which owns and operates the Dairy Block’s Maven Hotel, took over operations Aug. 10.
“Our sales were half of what they were before the pandemic,” Bonanno told BusinessDen Thursday. “It just economically did not make sense anymore.”
Bonanno said he and Walter Isenberg, CEO of Sage Hospitality, have known each other for 30 years. They both said the deal was a mutual decision, and said discussions about a sale started in June.
“They’re better equipped to deal with something that big,” Bonanno said. “They’re a big organization, so they probably see things and are able to fix things we’re unable to. They have a lot of experience behind them.”
“We wanted to make sure the legacy of that business remained intact,” said Walter Isenberg.
In addition to the hotel, and now the food hall, Sage operates two restaurants — Kachina Cantina and Poka Lola Social Club — in the Dairy Block. It also operates dozens of other hotels and restaurants in Denver and other markets.
Bonanno said he’s wanted out of the 17,000-square-foot hall since the pandemic, when lunch sales, previously the Milk Market’s busiest hours, evaporated. Even with more people back in offices, he said, it’s still an inconsistent crowd.
“When there’s not a consistent flow of people like we needed, that’s what becomes very challenging,” Bonanno said. “It varied widely, just week to week.”
At most food halls, the various stalls are individually owned and operated, and the food hall owner runs a central bar. At the Milk Market, however, all 16 stalls were owned and operated by Bonanno — and now by Sage.
Bonanno said he originally wanted the food hall to operate more like a market, where more people would pick up fresh produce or meat rather than meals, which is why he decided to own and operate all of the stalls.
“We just thought it would be more cohesive and that would be a … different take on the typical food hall,” Bonanno said.
Some of the concepts were new, like Albina by the Sea, while others had previously existed, such as Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria, which operated for a time in Park Meadows mall. Since its opening, he said he’s switched a few stalls, but the hall has largely remained the same.
Despite it being home only to Bonanno restaurants, Isenberg said Sage has no plans to change the food hall, stating it’ll be “business as usual.”
Bonanno still owns a number of Denver restaurants, including Mizuna, Luca and Vesper Lounge in Cap Hill. He recently took over the helm of the historic El Rancho in Evergreen.
Sage, Grand American and McWhinney developed Dairy Block.