During my latest visit to Denver, I sat down for a Q&A with Eli, the owner and proprietor of Berkeley Supply. Berkeley Supply carries an expertly curated collection of brands such as Rogue Territory, Tellason, Filson & of course, Tres Cuervos Leatherworks.
Let's get to it, if you have free time how do you spend it?
Eli: Depends on the time of the year but mostly its spent working. Vacations usually consist of work trips and extending on either end, after work I like to grab a beer locally and try to keep my money in the community where the shop is. I like to go see friends as much as possible and going new places, there’s not a lot of time to travel outside of the country, seeing different parts of this country because it is easy to get to and relatively affordable. And ride my motorcycle, that’s a big one.
What kind of bike?
Eli: Harley, there’s only one kind of motorcycle.
We could argue about that, ha, what did you do before you opened Berkeley Supply?
Eli: Before I started the shop, I waited tables, working in the fine dining scene here in Denver and went right from waiting tables to this. I was waiting tables pretty much the entire first year in the shop as well, as a second and sometimes only source of income. And then that kind of got in the way and so I did this full time.
How long did you do both?
Eli: One year.
Can you elaborate in your startup story?
Eli: Yea, it’s pretty simple, I don’t want to sound like I’m giving you a short answer but it really is a short answer. Me and a couple of friends were drinking beers in the old location one night on a Friday which is like the art walk night and the pile of cans started to become taller and my friend Josh who owns Avery County Cycles had a space available, a really tiny basically bathroom size space, and he really didn’t know what to do with it, he was going to make it a showroom for his completed bicycles and I was jokingly said that I would do the men’s clothing store that I had loosely talked about, and he said “ok do it” gave me absurdly cheap rent and I was literally open a month later.
And what part of town was that in?
Eli: It was basically next door… Just around the corner.
Perfect neighborhood, vibrant community.
Eli: It’s great and it has expanded more than I could ever even imagine since the day I opened Berkeley Supply, its wild.
Who in Denver has inspired you?
Eli: That’s a good question. Honestly, would say that the majority of people that have inspired me have been my friends. I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with a lot of very talented people across the board of professions and I cant even single out one or two or three, it’s just probably my entire crew of friends that inspires me more than anybody. And of course, my parents, they are very hard working, East cost hard bitten New Englanders, and I grew in a very much like hard, hard work, hard work family setting so, I would say that has been my inspiration for all of my life, my friends and family.
I can relate to that. I came from Quaker people. In terms of people you don’t know, is there anybody in particular you can think of on top of your head that inspires you.
Eli: That would be sports figures, I guess, you know, I grew up as a very huge Red Sox fan, so those guys, athletes have always been super inspirational to me. Wen it comes down to what I do, designers within the world that I’m in, guys like Draplin. I have never met him, we’ve exchanged a few emails, but I sell Field Notes and everything he does turns in gold, so how could you not be inspired by a guy like that.
He recently came to Albuquerque and I was able to hear him speak. It was inspiring, funny and poignant.
Person 2: Yea you know, there have been so many people that have inspired me that it’s hart to nail down just one person.
What book do you want people to think that you are reading right now?
Eli: Haha, That’s a great question. I would like to say that I read a ton but, I mean, if you look at the list of the top fifty great American novels I have probably read zero of them. (laughs) So, I would like people to think that I’m reading Phil Knight’s new book. I bought it and set it down it has sat right in the same spot since. So, that’s the book I would like people to think that I’m actually reading but I’m not.
That goes back to the free time question, right?
Eli: Haha yeah.
Alright, so where do you go around here for a quick bite to eat.
Eli: Hops & Pie. Around here, shit, I would go there eight nights a week if I could, and you know, having worked in restaurant world and being friends with so many wine reps, chefs, people that work in the food industry I go to so many restaurants around Denver. In the immediate neighborhood I like to give my money back to my friends at Hops & Pie, it is one of the best restaurants on Tennyson and in the area so that’s where I go.
When friends come from out of town where do you take them to eat?
Eli: I try to go to anywhere that my old boss Jeff Osaka owns, he owns a number of places in town now. One is the restaurant I used to work at, called 12, but I try to go as many of his restaurants as possible. Also, my friend Todd is a chef and has a restaurant called Hop Alley and I take there very frequently. You know, my list is long, I could talk about this all day. But when friends visit and ask, hey let’s go dinner, those are the places I point out.
What’s the most exciting new brand of which you’ve become aware recently?
Eli: Oh man. The shop is so far from trendy, don’t get me wrong it’s definitely trendy but its classic, everything in the shop you could blindly walk around the shop, grab shirt, grab a pair of pants and you will fit anywhere. That’s been the point of the shop. I really don’t follow trends or chase trends. I like to stick with the brands that I started with, you know, my brand list is probably sixty brands deep but probably fifteen brands are widely representative in this shop. So, I don’t know, you really wont catch me with Kanye’s line, I really don’t care about that.
In this world, in this ecosystem of heritage, small batch, quality goods is there anyone who has done something recently that has gotten you excited.
Eli: You know, it’s such a hard question I mean, every season I you start by looking at the brands that you do best with. I sell a tremendous amount of Rogue Territory, Freenote Cloth, Filson, Pendelton, the brands that are just killing it are what I’m paying attention to so honestly I couldn’t tell you about a new brand I have noticed because I stay so focused on what we do here. If I went down the internet wormhole and tried to find new brands all the time I would lose my mind.
You aren’t exactly coolhunting.
Eli: Right, in the new year, I will probably spotlight a few, maybe not necessarily American made brands, but still brands that are incredibly high in quality. There are a couple of brands I love in Canada and Japan. I’d like to spotlight a few of these brands while staying true to the USA made stuff, that will never go away but I feel like I have to evolve at some point because you have to evolve with the market. This shop will never be a shop you buy stuff made in China or Turkey, not anything against those places, but we want to stay with what we know and heritage and brands that, while not necessarily made in the United States, stand up to the quality standards that we have, and even higher.
Well, if you look at Free & Easy, Japan does Americana as well as anybody.
Eli: As well if not better.
I will say, if I can put words in your mouth something that is new and exciting to me it’s the leather Filson briefcases. They are amazing. And when I saw them I thought, this is an incredible take on a product that will stand the test of time.
Eli: I agree, its one of those things that you want to have in your store as a marquee piece it’s beautiful but for $800, I’m not sure but how many are we going to sell, but if you sell one you are doing alright. It is something that you have to have in your shop along with the duffels and you know there are plenty of brands out there that I could chase down for leather briefcase but I stick to the brands that I know. If you are going to buy a leather briefcase, you want it to be from a company you know will be there in forty years, because you are essentially going to have it for forty years. So I want to buy from brands that have been around for a hundred years, that I know will be for another hundred years if I’m selling a product that is intended to last one hundred years.
There are only a couple of leather briefcases out there that I would consider buying, and that’s one of them.
Do you listen to any podcasts?
Eli: Yeah, I listen to Pardon my Take. Seriously, it’s the only podcast I listen to and it is fucking hilarious.
Alright, I’m going to make it about me. If we did a collaboration, any ideas about what it would be?
Eli: That’s a good one. First and foremost, I would love to, let’s do it. You know I think that I would be the stuff that are going to be the easiest, the coasters you threw down are very Santa fe but are awesome. You know, that’s the first thing that came to mind as soon as I saw the coaster, let’s do one for Berkeley Supply. I think simple collaborations are the best, you know you don’t have to be all over the top and wild, just has to be stuff that people want to buy.
We could do a Berkely Supply or Tennyson coaster.
Eli: Cool, I think that’s it.
Last question, where should I go when I leave here?
Eli: Hops & Pie.
I’ll do it. Appreciate it.
Eli: No problem. This was great.