By Nancy Hahn
Gene Kalesti is a man with ideas. He is not a man who is willing to sit back and just think about ideas. He gets up and talks to other people, asks questions, works together with like-thinking people, and brings those ideas to life.
In 2016 Kalesti and his wife began attending monthly meetings of the WWCA, the West Colfax Community Association. In August, they met Sandy and Carla Buckstein. The two couples had great ideas for the West Colfax area and began to build the ideas into reality. The Bucksteins owned 7110 W. Colfax and the collaboration began. Working for several months, the Pro Kitchen and Event Center moved from imagination to being built. The couples visualize the space as a Center for the 40West Arts District. The community can display artwork, hold events, and engage in spirited discussion at the Third Thursday Bag Lunch at the Center. The Kalestis and the Bucksteins call Pro Kitchen and Event Center a ‘business incubator.’
Gene Kalesti is now the C.E.O. and chef of the Pure Colorado Event Center and Pro Kitchens in the 40 West Art District at 7110 W. Colfax Avenue in Lakewood. The event center, with parking for one hundred cars, is perfect for any large event. Wedding receptions, quinceaneras, or any other large event using the event center can have the event catered from the kitchen or even choose to prepare food themselves in the kitchen. Because Gene Kalesti and his wife speak several languages, arrangements can be made for events for people not completely comfortable in English. Kalesti, also, uses the kitchen to make and bottle his salad dressings. He encourages the community to make use of the kitchen for similar small business uses or preparing for farmer’s markets.
The center, also, has meeting space for smaller events; like yoga classes or business meetings. Forty local artists have their art on exhibit. Fresh flowers and plants sit on window sills. Kalesti pictures the space as a place for the neighborhood. Meetings, classes, and small events of all kinds have a comfortable and attractive space at a reasonable price. On the third Thursday of each month, the event center is the site of the BYOL (Bring your own lunch) meeting. Anyone can join in and everyone is encouraged to jump in with their ideas. This is a forum for any sort of discussion, often including upcoming events in the 40 West Art District.
The lot across the street from Colorado Pro Kitchens has parking space for up to thirty-five food trucks. There are many rules and regulations about food trucks and their parking time and requirements that had to be considered. The space is well-fenced and well-planned. When Kalesti began planning the fences, he consulted with neighboring businesses at every stage. To make the best use of space, he even agreed to fence a neighboring business’s property. The fees food truck owners pay include access to electricity, water, and a dump station for gray water (relatively clean water from washing dishes or other kitchen uses). Food truck owners are able to use the inside kitchen at Colorado Pro Kitchens to do the large prep work for their food trucks, also.
Once Gene Kalesti began building the use of the event center and food truck space, he continued to think about food and the community. Many people in the community have less access to fresh food and healthy vegetables than they should have. Fresh fruits and vegetables can, also, be prohibitively expensive for families on a tight budget. So, what about a Farmer’s Market? It sounded like a good idea, so with some talk and some infectious enthusiasm; it happened. This summer will be the second year for the 40 West Farmer’s Market at the corner of Colfax and Pierce. This year the market can accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Colorado Double Up Food Bucks. This helps bring healthy food within reach for more people. The market is open from 9 am to 2 pm every Saturday from June 3 until October 7. There is space for 45 vendors, nearly all selling real food at reasonable prices. Many area shops and other locations have, also, passed out 20 percent off coupons for the market. Container Collective Yoga offers free morning yoga classes from 10 to 10:30am each Market day. There is free live music from 11am until closing. In addition, vendors from the Farmers Market will be able to use Pro Kitchens facility to prepare their food for market – washing and wrapping, for example.
Gene Kalesti worked to insure that the Farmer’s Market would be a place where families could buy fresh, affordable food. He wants Colorado Pro’s Kitchens to be the community’s kitchen and Pure Colorado Event Center to be the community’s meeting space. All of these spaces seem to be well on their way to being just that.
All of Gene Kalesti’s businesses demonstrate his business savvy, but his ideas and views about his businesses make him sound more like a great neighbor. The one who plans the block party, helps the kids fix their bikes, and leaves a box of food on Grandma Peg’s doorstep every now and then. Gene Kalesti sees Lakewood and West Colfax as his neighborhood. He wants the best for his neighbors and the families, who live and shop in his neighborhood. Families are important to Gene Kalesti. Gene learned “the delightful work and love of raising a child” when he raised his son in Los Angeles from the age of two as a single father. His son, Bailey, is now a “highly successful computer graphics designer;” who designed the graphics for Pure Colorado Pro’s Kitchen and Event Center. He, of course, loves to cook. Gene says without the support and understanding of his wife “nothing I do would even be possible.” Gene married his wife, May, in 2006. May is from Venezuela and is “my mirror, she’s my soundboard. She is, definitely, my muse.” The 40 West Art District is pleased to have such good neighbors.