Mile High Dine and Recline: ChoLon Sloan’s Lake (PHOTOS)

By Katie Rapone, editor

Modern Asian restaurant ChoLon Sloan’s Lake, and a new Italian concept called Gusto, recently opened at Lakehouse, a 12-story residential community located at West 17th Avenue and Raleigh Street, across the street from Sloan’s Lake. The openings bring the total number of restaurants under ChoLon Restaurant Concepts to six; including ChoLon Downtown, ChoLon Central Park, Bistro LeRoux and YumCha. The group is also under construction on a new ChoLon at Denver International Airport.

ChoLon Restaurant Concepts is co-founded and operated by Chef Lon Symensma and Christopher Davis-Massey. ChoLon — which translates to “big market” — is named after the largest Chinese-influenced market in Saigon, Vietnam. ChoLon Modern Asian opened in downtown Denver in 2010. In 2011, the restaurant was named a James Beard finalist for Best New Restaurant in America and landed on Details Magazine’s Top 10 Best New Asian Restaurants in America.


Every aspect of ChoLon Sloan’s Lake’s design has been meticulously crafted to create an atmosphere that is as captivating as the flavors that grace its menu. The restaurant’s design approach aims to evoke a distinct atmosphere that is both inviting and visually captivating.

“The design of the restaurant is sleek and natural, from a large downstairs bar to the second-floor mezzanine, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake!” says Chef Symensma.  

As the architect of all ChoLon locations, UNUM Collaborative designed each restaurant with its own distinct identity, yet collectively they embody a continuous thematic evolution. Notably, ChoLon Sloan’s Lake is the only Cholon location with a second story or mezzanine. Elevated seating provides unimpeded vistas of the surrounding trees and lake and the large windows allow the neighborhood and streetscape to become integral components of the overall dining experience, enhancing the sense of engagement and connection with the surrounding urban environment.

The design philosophy of Cholon Lakehouse centers around the concept of “harmony in disruption,” emphasizing movement, tradition, balance, and symbolism. “The prominent 20-foot feature wall was crafted to mimic the motion of a boat gliding through water, disrupting a single plane to capture a frozen moment or memory. Given the predominantly glass surroundings, this wall served as a macro symbol visible from the street. The theme of movement permeated the space, mirroring the way a body moves within it,” says Adam Steinbach, UNUM architect and principal-in-charge.

Compared to ChoLon’s other locations, Cholon Sloans Lake places a greater emphasis on its bar area, with a prominent aged brass bar top serving as the focal point around the central stair. “This centrality is integral to the overall experience, allowing patrons to observe fellow guests within the restaurant or gaze outwards to the picturesque views of Sloan’s Lake and the bustling urban landscape. The design embraces a slightly raw and deliberately less polished aesthetic than the downtown location, leveraging the inherent qualities of the concrete flooring and structural elements, juxtaposed with the tall glass windows.” 


Denver-based Novum Contracting Group was the general contractor for ChoLon Sloan’s Lake and Gusto. The company has a strong presence in the food and beverage hospitality sector as well as a great working relationship with the designers UNUM Collaborative. “The goal was to build two separate concepts that we wanted to feel unique on their own but connected in the same space. This created some challenges related to kitchen capacity and overall flow and feel,” said Nate Boyer, president of Nuvum. “With this building achieving WELL certification it added a few intricacies that are not typical in commercial construction and offered us a chance to learn some new processes.” 

In 2020, Lakehouse was awarded WELL Precertification at the Gold Level by the International WELL Building Institute™ for its commitment to measurably demonstrating its work towards promoting residents’ health across the WELL program’s seven key performance areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

“Accommodating all the necessary programs and functionalities within an already limited footprint presented a significant hurdle. This constraint, compounded by low clearances in the back-of-house area, necessitated careful maneuvering of kitchen and mechanical equipment to optimize space usage,” says Steinbach.

Despite these obstacles, collaboration among the contractor (Novum Contracting Group), the Kitchen Designer (Great Lakes), the client’s team (Cholon Restaurant Concepts), and Unum Collaborative, proved instrumental in achieving maximum functionality and a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing outcome.

According to Novum, a collective effort was required to uphold the essence of the design, while also managing costs effectively. “This is where we separate ourselves from much of the construction market because even prior to putting a shovel in the ground, we are working with the owners and designers to find creative ways to keep the project within budget while also maintaining the design of a beautiful space,” explains Boyer. “We want to see Cholon do amazing things in this space for a long time because that is a win for us, for them, for the designers and for the Sloans Lake neighborhood.”


At the heart of ChoLon Sloan’s Lake’s allure is its menu, meticulously crafted by Chef Lon Symensma. Drawing inspiration from the diverse culinary landscapes of Southeast Asia, the menu showcases an array of small plates, shareable dishes, and entrees that marry traditional techniques with bold, imaginative flavors.

“At ChoLon Sloan’s Lake, we are excited to finally open our doors and share the dynamic flavors of our updated menu. You’ll find signature dishes that ChoLon is known for, like our french-onion soup dumplings, plus a number of new plates and handmade dim sum,” says Chef Symensma.

Chef Lon Symensma started his career cooking in restaurants in France and Italy, before spending over a decade working in New York City. He opened ChoLon Modern Asian in downtown Denver in 2010. Since then, he says, “The Denver dining scene has grown dramatically and I love being a part of it, incorporating local ingredients into traditional techniques in the restaurant’s seasonal menus.”

Project Team:

  • Adam Steinbach – Architect, Principal in Charge (UNUM)
  • Eliane Kelley – Architect – Interior Designer (UNUM)
  • MEC Engineering – Plumbing and Mechanical Engineering
  • Dawn Keller Electrical Design – Electrical Design and Engineering
  • NOVUM Contracting Group (General Contractor)
  • LVTD Design (Millwork fabrication)
  • Great Lakes – Kitchen Equipment Supplier and Designer

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