Owlbear Barbecue quickly rose to cult status around Denver after its Larimer Street opening in 2019. But less than three years on — and two of them during the pandemic — the Texas-style smoked meats shop is closing its doors.
Owlbear will open for two more meal services at 2826 Larimer St., from 11 a.m. until sold out this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 22-23. After that, owner and pitmaster Karl Fallenius has no plans to continue cooking for Denverites.
“I’m deeply questioning whether I want to stay in the service industry, or keep doing food at all,” Fallenius told The Denver Post. “I don’t really love the industry so much, and I’m sick of trying to fight it.”
In terms of restaurant and especially barbecue culture, Fallenius has bucked against industry norms. At Owlbear, he sourced meats from ethical (non-factory farmed) producers and used compostable serving ware in an effort to lessen the restaurant’s environmental impacts.
But as food and material costs rose during the pandemic, practices that were once central to his business became less feasible.
“We were wonderfully sustainable for a barbecue place, in terms of environmental impact,” he said. “But in terms of financial longevity… When the only way to really make a business work is to fall into the cheapest way of doing it… it becomes hard.”
Fallenius’ business debts mounted as a result of closures, followed by cost surges. With less than a year in business pre-pandemic, he didn’t have much financial runway to weather it. Still, Owlbear was a success by many standards, most of all its reputation as a top Texas-style barbecue spot in Colorado.
“It was a really hard decision, and it’s not necessarily getting any easier,” Fallenius said “I’m very proud of what we accomplished with Owlbear, but I’ve got to figure out how to move forward with my life.”
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