In the 10 years since he received his doctorate from the College of Music, Obe Ariss has met just one kind of person with the same mentality as a musician.
“When you’re a culinary chef, you go through the same years of preparation and the same huge costs of getting a proper education,” Ariss says. “You’re constantly seeking perfection, and your reward is seeing someone appreciate your art.”
Perhaps that’s why the pianist—who worked as a development director at the Colorado Symphony for seven years—is combining his passions for music and food to open a new performance space and restaurant in Denver.
The Preservery—described on its website as “a seasonal restaurant, bakery, marketplace and bar working to build bridges through great food, live music and good old fashioned fun”—opens this weekend on Blake Street in the River North district. It represents the culmination of months of intense preparation and focus for Ariss and his wife, College of Music voice alumna Whitney Ariss.
And it might not have happened if the couple hadn’t taken an anniversary trip to New Orleans two years ago.
“We saw how that community was focusing on three elements: the community and rebuilding, the music and the food,” Ariss recalls. “While we were both in very rewarding careers—Whitney was the marketing manager at Marczyk Fine Foods—we were so drawn to the idea of bringing all our passions together into a new project.
“As we fleshed it out, that’s how we arrived at the concept of a food and music hall.”The Preservery’s menu—a blend of microplates, local beers, cheese, breads and more—fits into a popular niche in Denver, bringing a variety of fine foods together in one cafeteria-type setting.
But Ariss says what sets it apart is the open forum for musicians of all levels.
“Just like with the food choices, you’ll have a lot of different music to listen to while you’re here,” Ariss says. “We want the music program to be a forum for people to play what they want and try new things. When I was younger I wanted that opportunity, so we’re providing a place for young musicians to play without any restrictions.”
Ariss says the plan for now is to invite acoustic and classical performers to play on the Preservery’s intimate stage Thursday through Saturday evenings, along with a brunch program on Saturday mornings. He and Whitney will play regularly, with other local musicians and friends from the Colorado Symphony, Colorado Ballet, Opera Colorado and the Boulder Philharmonic taking some of the first slots.
“It’s all coming full circle. A lot of my friends who still perform are willing to come help us get started.”
He’s also bringing fellow Music Buffs in on the action. “I reached out to a couple of professors at CU, and they connected me with some students who will be performing.”
Ariss says the cooperative nature of Colorado’s music and culinary scenes is one reason he believes the restaurant will thrive, even in a competitive market.
“We’ve had a lot of support from media and the culinary scene. And RiNo is a collaborative community. We have restaurants and breweries and the light rail nearby that will help bring people here.”
The other reason: Obe and Whitney have a solid business plan.
“When you get down to it, you have to have a clearly defined vision to be successful in anything. This is a business, and the goal is to have a well-oiled machine in addition to the artistry and the food and the music.”
A true musician-turned-foodie, Ariss says he hopes the idea of a cafeteria concert appeals to culinary and musical artists alike. “You can’t preserve a dish unless you freeze it, much like you can’t preserve a musical performance unless you record it. This is food and music together, in their natural setting.”
Ariss says the biggest piece of advice he has for College of Music students—besides emailing the Preservery to secure a gig—is to give your ideas a chance, no matter how far-fetched they may feel.
“You have to follow your dreams, and be brave enough to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone.”
The Preservery, located at 3040 Blake Street in Denver, holds its grand opening this Friday, April 1. Visit the restaurant’s website for menu and music information.