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With Debts Mounting, RiNo's Zeppelin Station Enters Uncertain New Chapter

A sign in Zeppelin Station points patrons toward food and drink.

After a flurry of operational changes and a pandemic-era decline in foot traffic, the future of the Zeppelin Station food hall in Denver's River North Arts District may be in doubt.

The eight-vendor market hall, which occupies the first floor of a four-story, 100K SF office building next to the 38th and Blake RTD station, has apparently struggled to turn a profit for years.

In a letter to fellow investors obtained by BusinessDen, Jason Kaplan of Kaplan Cos. wrote that the business, which is operated by RiNo Night Market LLC, “has not achieved financial expectations that everyone had hoped for.” It lost $325K in 2022 alone, Kaplan said, and remains deeply in debt to Denver-based Zeppelin Development, its landlord and namesake, which opened the building in 2018.

Kaplan has invested in and worked on other projects with Zeppelin Development, including the Catbird Hotel and The Source Hotel and Market.

“The balance of such is substantial at approximately $700K,” Kaplan wrote, an amount stemming from unpaid rent and other missed payments. “Currently, RiNo Night Market LLC does not have the available capital to resolve the default and the future of the business does not appear to be tracking in a way that is viable in the long term.”

Some of the difficulty is related to larger, industrywide challenges like staffing shortages and food costs, Kaplan said in the letter. But $332K in federal pandemic aid, according to ProPublica’s database of Paycheck Protection Program payments, was not enough to help Zeppelin Station reverse its financial misfortunes. 

A shift in management, part of what Kaplan called a turnaround plan, didn’t help either. In 2021, Night Market brought in Austin-based Fam Hospitality Group to take over operations, a partnership that formally ended earlier this year. Fam’s restaurants in Zeppelin Station have all since closed or moved elsewhere

At least one other Denver-area food hall, Broadway Market in Capitol Hill, has shuttered since 2020. That space will soon reopen as Playground Asian Food Hall, Westword reports, a “virtual” food hall that — in a shift indicative of a landscape reshaped by the pandemic — will focus primarily on takeout and delivery.