‘Country food meets NY deli’ opens in downtown office building

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The staff of J&T’s Family Kitchen. From right to left: co-founders Derrell Trussell and Julie Mason, dishwasher and prep cook Samantha Lynn Hamilton and manager Gabby Davis. Not pictured: dishwasher and prep cook Audrey Mason and Trussell’s sister Ruby McManis, “who has been here since day one.” (Matt Geiger/BusinessDen)

The co-owner of downtown Denver’s newest sit-down restaurant prefers you call him “Texas.”

“I’ll be in here at 5 o’clock in the morning with some ham hocks, a little bit of bacon fat, and them things go on and cook until about 11 o’clock where they’ve done boiled down and cooked for five hours,” said Derrell Trussell, though nobody calls him that. “We don’t cut corners. Everything is made from scratch.”

On Monday, Trussell and fiancee Julie Mason opened J&T’s Family Kitchen on the first floor of Denver’s Civic Center Plaza at 1560 Broadway, where a cafe once operated. With one of the city’s largest transit hubs next door, and the state capitol across the street, the duo felt the location was too good to pass up. 

Despite a shelter-in-place order nearby as police investigated a report of shots fired, and little marketing besides word-of-mouth, the eatery raked in over $1,000 in sales on its first day.

“I’ve opened for 10 to 15 restaurants,” Trussell said. “This was the best one.”

At J&T’s, most items, like its Dr. Pepper barbeque sauce, are made by hand. But Trussell ships in Earl Campbell’s sausage, as well as pecan roast coffee that originates from his hometown of Mineola.

“He is known around here as the meatloaf man,” Mason said of her fiancee. “We are the only restaurant in Colorado that does hickory-smoked meatloaf.”

The restaurant – which launched in 2022 as a “ghost kitchen” taking delivery and catering orders – fashions itself as “good ol’ country food meets NY-inspired deli” It’s staffed by the couple, along with three family members. It offers breakfast and lunch, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Biscuits and gravy run $12.50, while most lunch items sit around $10, per its website. A salad bar is also available. 

When BusinessDen first interviewed the couple, it was late April, and they believed J&T’s was days from launching. But a simple fire permit opened a can of worms that pushed opening day back two months.

They said the real problem, echoed by other small Denver businesses, was the lack of clear communication from the city on which permits their restaurant actually needed. The delay cost them $7,000 in rent and $60,000 in lost sales from the two-month delay, if you use day-one sales as a metric, they said. 

“That’s a big problem for small businesses,” Mason said. “Waiting two or three months can make or break a mom and pop.”

The road to restaurant ownership for Trussell and Mason has been unconventional.

Now 40, Trussell was once a 17-year-old in Mineola serving jail time as an accessory to strong-armed robbery. After he got out, a friend who had tried his cooking connected him with a local chef, who was impressed with his culinary skills.

“He asked me if I ever cooked professionally,” Trussell said. “I was like: ‘I work at Long John Silvers, bro, I’m a convicted felon – ain’t nobody fixing to hire me. And he’s like: ‘I will.’ ”

Trussell became his sous chef — at a spot called Macdaddy’s — writing recipes for the menu. Then he was dealt a blow.

“My mom was probably one of my biggest supporters when I got out of prison and tried to get my life back on track. And then when I was 28, my mom passed away. And before she passed away, I made her a promise that I would never go back to living that kind of life,” Trussell said.

“I guess you could say me opening this (J&T’s) is me keeping that promise.”

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A photo of Trussell’s mother hangs above the hot line, watching him as he cooks. (Matt Geiger/BusinessDen)

Trussell said he then moved to Florida, where he worked at a variety of restaurants and attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, before making his way to Colorado about a decade ago. 

He met Mason, 46, when she was interviewing him for a chef position at Murphy Creek Tavern in Aurora. The two immediately bonded over a shared love of comedian Gabriel Iglesias.

But before hiring Trussell, Mason herself had a long road to the role she held then of executive chef. Hailing from Rochester, in western New York, she got her Masters degree in biochemistry before moving to California, and for a time, Germany. She moved to Colorado in 2007, and quickly grew impatient being just a “PTA Mom.”

“So, I started cooking and baking, and I started a business, Julie’s Tasty Bites,” she said.

That business got her into the restaurant industry, shuffling through various jobs before landing at Murphy Creek and meeting her fiancee.

“Don’t get it twisted, she is a badass cook. But she is hands down a better baker than I ever thought about being,” Trussell said.


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