• Meet Johnny Ballen & Josh Olsen, Á La Heart

    Denver duo brings the community together, celebrating Thanksgiving in the most meaningful way.

     
    FROM THE Fall 2017 ISSUE
     

It’s a typical Thanksgiving Day. The ovens are turned on, the aprons are donned and the food is prepared. Families gather and eat to their hearts’ content. But for Johnny Ballen and Josh Olsen, Thanksgiving Day is anything but typical. It’s not a few who wait to be fed, but thousands.

Originally initiated by Rosa Linda’s Restaurant in 1985, Denver’s Thanksgiving Day Feed is now a staple event, shining a light on family, community and service. After 25 years, when Rosa Linda’s closed and there was no one left to oversee the event, veteran volunteers Olsen and Ballen (who co-owned The Squeaky Bean Farm + Table) swooped in to save the day, proving that superheroes don’t always wear capes. 

Ballen and Olsen met while working at Panzano restaurant located in Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver, where Ballen served as a bartender and Olsen as sous chef. Ballen’s dream of starting up his own restaurant slowly became a reality, and The Squeaky Bean was born with Olsen acting as his partner, harvester and official Bean Thumb.

“Denver’s always been a meat-andpotatoes town,” says Ballen, “so we kind of wanted to pioneer a little food movement. It was a lot of bloody knuckles and sweat and finding stuff used and making it look pretty and putting it in the restaurant.”

Since their partnership began in 2009, the two friends have come a long way. While The Squeaky Bean recently closed, Feed is still on, with donations accepted through Acres at Warren Tech High School in Lakewood. Together, the duo proves to be an unstoppable force, and this year marks their third time overseeing Feed. 

“It’s really a community effort,” says Olsen. “We’re willing to put the labor hours in, we’re just looking to the community for the hands and for any kind of financial aid so that we can keep it going.” 

After a few days of initial meal prep, Feed kicks off at dawn. A line of volunteers plate to-go boxes for in-house dining as well as deliveries, and they don’t stop until the goal of 5,000 meals is met. The entire line functions military-style, with an estimated 800 meals plated per hour, averaging 13 meals a minute.

“Josh and I are restaurant guys—we thrive under pressure,” says Ballen. And while the needs are many, there is no shortage of help. “You won’t believe how many [volunteers] we have to turn away,” he adds.

The 2017 Feed is taking place at Warren Tech, an efficient setting complete with kitchen and multiple convection ovens. To donate to this year’s Feed go to acreswarrentech.wixsite.com/acres.

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