Sexy Pizza, City O’ City owners team up for small town redevelopment

Denver restaurateurs plan to redevelop school in La Veta

Sexy Pizza co-owner Kayvan Khalatbari, left, and City O’ City and Watercourse Foods co-owner Lauren Roberts are teaming up for a redevelopment project in La Veta. (Lily O’Neill photo)

Kayvan Khalatbari and Lauren Roberts are living La Veta loca.

Khalatbari, co-owner of Sexy Pizza, and Roberts, co-owner of Watercourse and City O’ City, are teaming up to work on a development project in La Veta, a small town about three hours south of Denver.

It’s the second spot in southern Colorado to pique the interest of Khalatbari, a former Denver mayoral candidate. In recent years, he has bought a host of properties in Trinidad — the last town along Interstate 25 before New Mexico.

“Denver is turning into just another generic, big city in a lot of ways,” Khalatbari said. “There’s a comedian who jokes that you know Denver is becoming like all the other cities because it has the best hot chicken from L.A. or the best donuts from Portland. Southern Colorado is a place to reinvent yourself and to do it with other people in a place that’s not going to run you and your pocketbook dry.”

Roberts knew Khalatbari from his visits to City O’ City in Capitol Hill. He also spoke about his expansion to Trinidad at a company culture series event she hosted.

“That’s when my ears perked up,” Roberts said.

The two Denver restaurateurs are under contract to purchase La Veta’s K-12 school, which will shutter its doors at the end of the school year.

“You just don’t find a lot of places like that that are available, or that are accessible to small business owners like us,” Roberts said.

“Or that are less money than my 1,200-square-foot house in Denver,” Khalatbari said.

“Or my 2,200-square-foot house,” Roberts added.

The pair declined to disclose the specific amount they’re set to pay. A new $42 million school has already been built for La Veta’s upcoming school year.

The town, population 800, sits at the base of the Spanish Peaks off the Highway of Legends, an hour away from the New Mexico border. It’s known for its community of ranchers, hunters and artists.

Roberts and Khalatbari have no previous development experience. They’ve brought on a number of partners: Robert’s mother and sister, who are also co-owners of Watercourse and City O’ City; Sexy Pizza’s director of operations, Kyle Peters; and Jeff Shanahan, who helped launch Sexy Pizza but also owns Shanahan Development, which focuses on income-restricted housing in Denver.

“It’s like everything else in my life, you know, I never made a pizza or ran a restaurant before Sexy Pizza, and I never really did anything before I finally just did them,” Khalatbari said.

La Veta school

Roberts and Khalatbari are under contract to buy this La Veta school. (Courtesy of Code of the West Real Estate)

The school property at 126 E. Garland St. houses a main 22,600-square-foot school, a smaller elementary school, a maintenance building, a science annex, and a building for woodshop classes on four acres.

Roberts and Khalatbari plan to demolish the smaller elementary school and build around 12 townhomes for workforce housing.

Beyond that, nothing is set in stone. They’re considering opening a brewery in the main school building, which dates to 1911, and turning the seven classrooms into either retail or residential space. Roberts said she’s planning to open a Watercourse cafe and prep kitchen.

“The people care about creating jobs down there and creating food systems. They just need people like ourselves that are coming from different perspectives and experiences to take those down there, and not take over, but infuse that into what they’re already doing,” Khalatbari said. “Young people turn 18 down there, and they’re gone. So, you’re left with an aging population that doesn’t have a complete perspective of what’s possible.”

Khalatbari has also purchased a home in La Veta, which he envisions living in long-term eventually, and Roberts is considering doing the same.

Khalatbari’s interest in southern Colorado dates back to the early days of the pandemic.

“Over a nine-month period, I had dropped out of the mayor’s race, adopted two young girls, left the cannabis industry after 15 years, and ended a long-term relationship,” he said. “And I got done with all of that and just thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do with my life?’”

So, he “took a soul searching journey” in his truck around the Southwest. He drove for weeks, looking for a smaller town where he could set up a vacation home and “give my girls some perspective outside of Denver,” he said.

He settled on Trinidad and, within 24 hours of visiting, he bought an old church as an investment. Since then, he’s bought a home, five other historic buildings totaling 50,000 square feet and a 24-unit residential development.

“I thought it was just going to be one project, but every time I went down I had met someone who had lived there forever or a new resident from Denver, Atlanta or Austin, and it just started to really grow on me,” Khalatbari said.

Khalatbari opened a Sexy Pizza location in an old train depot he bought in town. Denver’s Mutiny Information Cafe just opened a second location on Trinidad’s Main Street in a building he owns, which also houses a co-op grocery store.

He’s working with the owners of Hi-Dive on South Broadway, Suzanne Magnuson and Curt Wallach, to open a music venue within an old hotel.

Khalatbari also has bought three historic buildings in Raton, New Mexico, just 30 minutes outside of Trinidad, where he plans to open a comedy and music venue as well. And he also owns an 8.5-acre farm there, where he plans to erect some greenhouses and an insect farm.

“The cheap real estate and good people are what drew me down there,” he said. “The people in southern Colorado simply care about the community, and I want to embrace that. It’s nice to get away from the neo-liberal politics in Denver.”

La Veta warehouse

Roberts is buying this nearly 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Trinidad for a wholesale vegan and vegetarian business. (Courtesy of Lauren Roberts)

Roberts and her family are also under contract to purchase a nearly 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Trinidad to offer wholesale vegan and vegetarian food for larger operations, such as nursing homes and schools. This follows their recent purchase of the City O’ City and Watercourse real estate.

And developer Dana Crawford has also been active in Trinidad since 2016, working on restoring the old opera house, the Fox West Theatre and other projects.

Denver restaurateurs plan to redevelop school in La Veta

Denver restaurateurs plan to redevelop school in La Veta

Sexy Pizza co-owner Kayvan Khalatbari, left, and City O’ City and Watercourse Foods co-owner Lauren Roberts are teaming up for a redevelopment project in La Veta. (Lily O’Neill photo)

The Denver restaurateurs are buying a K-12 school an hour from the New Mexico border in Le Veta and plan to turn it into townhomes and maybe a brewery.

You must be a member to access BusinessDen's exclusive reporting.

Your subscription has expired. Renew now by choosing a subscription below!

For more information, head over to your profile.

Profile


SUBSCRIBE NOW

TERMS OF SERVICE:

ALL MEMBERSHIPS RENEW AUTOMATICALLY. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR A 1 YEAR MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL AT THE RATE IN EFFECT AT THAT TIME UNLESS YOU CANCEL YOUR MEMBERSHIP BY LOGGING IN OR BY CONTACTING AARON@BUSINESSDEN.COM.

ALL CHARGES FOR MONTHLY OR ANNUAL MEMBERSHIPS ARE NONREFUNDABLE.

EACH MEMBERSHIP WILL ONLY FUNCTION ON UP TO 3 MACHINES. ACCOUNTS ABUSING THAT LIMIT WILL BE DISCONTINUED.




Return to Homepage

109039