Noun/ Oz-Juahzian/ ‘Osh-Wash-ian’
An inhabitant of a fictional world called Capsule Oz, often portrayed in the work of Seymon Gurule, Denver Graffiti artist and creative.
The name Capsule Oz is a clear reference to the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, which Seymon would watch religiously every year with her mother when she was a child. Seymon uses the word capsule to convey the idea of a moment, stuck in time.
In Capsule Oz, some of the native Ozjuahzian’s are queens, some are protectors, some are warriors. They have long eyelashes, big heads, and skinny necks. They ride in winged bathtubs, or on the backs of llamas. Some wear striped nylon tights and medallions. Some are human but want to be animals, so they wear fake beaks and jackets with feathers on them. Their currency is stars.
“My head is in the clouds, daydreaming all the time. I dream and eat and sleep Ozjuahzian all the time, I can draw them at the drop of the dime. The stories have been in my head ever since I was little,” said Seymon, who I recently met with to learn about her newest mural for Sassafras American Eatery Capitol Hill.
If you’ve ever eaten at owner Julia Grother’s Cajun & Creole inspired eatery, you know that the restaurant itself is a world of its own.
“I tried to make the space transcendent,” Julia told me recently over coffee in the upper story of her massive Colfax location. “When you walk in I want it to feel like you’re not on Colfax, you’re not on Capitol Hill.” Sassafras is located at 320 East Colfax, which has a lot of history on Colfax and has always been a bit extraordinary. In the most recent past, the building was the short-lived Uptown Brothers Brewery. But, it had its longest history as Ted’s Red Room, which Julia discovered when she first moved to Denver and was working as a bartender at upscale restaurants downtown.
Julia was out and about with restaurant industry friends and stumbled upon the bar which she couldn’t have known would be home to her future restaurant.
“I remember walking in and being dazed, and maybe it was the wine, but it was kind of a dream. Everything was red, the tables were red, the walls were red, there was kind of like a red film on the windows. Even the restrooms were red. It was kind of like I was somewhere else, it was totally weird,” Julia recalled.
Years later, long after Ted’s Red Room closed, the space was left in disarray, but Julia was in love with the eclectic, slightly bizarre space and decided to make it into her newest restaurant location.
It took Julia about 45 days to renovate the empty, destroyed red room with the help of her “Sassafras family.” Together they ripped up the red carpet, painted the ceiling, hung the chandeliers, and cut napkins. Before long it was transformed into the southern bell of a space it is today.
The restaurant has two stories, a gorgeous sprawling wooden bar, and 22 foot ceilings. Fleur-de-lis printed curtains are draped across tall windows that overlook Colfax Ave.Customers sit in cozy u-shaped booths (adorned with mix matched novelty salt and pepper shakers) and enjoy rich southern food served up by chef Colin Mallet of Louisiana.
On the menu you can find visually stunning versions of biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, country fried eggs, and Cajun mac and cheese alongside house cured bacon, and two homemade jams. One of the jams is called Trois Bois which means three berries in French, and one is called Voodoo, which is a bright green concoction of peppers and tomatoes.
In the new mural, Seymon’s fantasy world of Ozjuahzians meets the spirit of Lousiana voodoo magic that emanates from Julia’s quaint eatery.
The mural features two larger than life Ozjuazian characters decked out in significant symbolism.
When Seymon approaches a new mural idea, she collaborates with the business owner in order to embody and capture their story within the stories of her ozjuahzians. “I want it to mean something to them as well.”
The first couple of times Seymon met with Julia “I asked her questions and looked at her style and I incorporated all of that into my own story, into how I interpreted her restaurant. It’s real eclectic and real whimsical.”
“She just walked in a soaked it in. I was like ‘how does she know so much,’” Julia said of Seymon. Here is a breakdown of the symbols in the mural.
Jars – Two of the jars that hang from the llama’s neck are labeled Voodoo and Trois Berry after the two popular homemade jams on every table at Sassafras. The third jar is labeled ‘Stars’ in reference to the Ozjuahzian’s currency.
Llama – This particular Llama is one of the characters of Capsule Oz and is symbolic of a traveler. The pink Ozjuahzian is traveling on the llama, which Julia thinks perfectly reflects the themes of the restaurant.
“Cajun and creole cooking is a fusion of a lot of cultures, the people of which traveled to eventually meet in one place. You have the Native Americans, the French Canadians, Haitians.” Julia elaborated.
Lemons and Beets – The produce popping out of the pink Ozjuahzian’s backpack is Seymon’s nod to the fresh ingredients used in the dishes at Sassafras.
“The Cajuns are people of the land so they are using what is regularly available. The herbs, the spices, they all come from the land,” Julia elaborated.
Chef Colin is very resourceful in his creations. Much of his knowledge of food was formed at home in Louisiana watching women in his family cook.
“Deep down it’s low and slow. There is one guy who comes in to work that says ‘You know I put my foot in the food,’ and it’s true. ‘Put my foot in the food,’ just means that I love everything that I am cooking,” Colin told me.
Pig with Wings – “When Pigs Fly,” is a southern idiom that stuck with Julia. It’s used in reference to something that is impossible, which some would say is accurate in regards to the steps Julia takes to be as resourceful as possible in her kitchen, using all parts of the pig.
Inside of the restaurant, there is a large picture of a pig on the wall. “I painted the pig, it is a butchers cut, the different parts of the pig, in French. We make everything from scratch. We make our own bacon which is kind of a big deal for a breakfast restaurant. We smoke it with sassafras wood and cure it nitrate free. We use other pieces to make our own sausage, like the breakfast sausage and the andouille sausage,” Julia described.
Aprons – Julia hand makes old-timey aprons for all of her servers to wear. They come in all different patterns and designs, just like the napkins that can be found wrapped around sets of silverware. Seymon painted aprons onto both the Ozjuahzians in the picture after becoming enamored with the eclectic, colorful patterns.
Color itself is a theme in the mural and the vibrancy of the paint Seymon uses is consistent in her work.
“When I was growing up my mom would paint every single wall in the house a different color so growing up we would have blue, and red, and pink, and green walls. I grew up around color and I love incorporating that,” said Seymon.
House – A lot of Seymon’s Ozjuahzians are painted wearing some kind of crazy hat. “They wear things on their heads all they time like tea cups, castles, and tree houses. If you look closely, the hat the pink Ozjuahzian is wearing is a tiny replica of Julia’s first Sassafras location, located in Jefferson Park.
Ozjuahzian’s Clothing – No detail in Seymon’s work is frivolous. If something isn’t in reference to Sassafras, it reference’s something in the extensive Oz Capsule universe. For example, the blue dots in the pink Ozjuahzian’s hair are sticky wish blooms, a plant from the Ozjuahzian’s native land. The striped nylons that both characters wear represent their social class, and are colored using scales carefully harvested from dangerous whale-size fish that warrior Ozjuahzians go on adventures to find.
S Medallions – Many of Seymon’s Ozjuahzian’s medallions emblazoned with the letter S. The S stands for Seymon, or Sepia, which is her graffiti name. In this mural however, Seymon said that the S also can stand for Sassafras.
I asked Julia about the inspiration for the name of the restaurant.
“Sassafras is a type of tree that has magical properties. The Native Americans believed it would bring wealth and prosperity and love. The wood was known to be good luck and it to have healing properties. The leaves are used for what is called gumbo fila. Gumbo fila is used in Cajun cooking as a thickening agent and to add flavor. The roots are used for root beer or sassafras tea. The Native Americans would boil the roots down and drink this tea when water supplies were contaminated. It has this peppermint orange zesty thing going on,” she explained.
After concluding our interview, Julia and I headed back down a grand staircase that runs through the middle of the restaurant into the main dining room, feeling a bit majestic, I inquired about this magic sassafras tea.
“We make it here! Do you want some?”
She fixed me a plastic to-go cup full of iced sassafras tea, which is an absolute delicacy, I swear. We then exchanged some info and she bid me well.
I stepped out of the restaurant, sipping this enchanting elixir, and back onto Colfax Ave, where I found myself immediately spellbound.
I wandered around for a while, feeling like I was on cloud nine despite the fact that I was enveloped in the chaos of Colfax. Which as we all know is loud, gritty, a little bit daunting, the “wickedest street In America.”
And it actually is quite wicked, but I’d like to think of it as a more favorable, Marie Laveau type of wicked. Laveau being the powerful voodoo queen of New Orleans in the 1800’s. Colfax is raw, sexy, and vibrant.
It contains a million magical, sometimes Ozjuahzian-esque worlds right under the surface that lend an escape from the hardships that real life creates.
To quote C.S Lewis, “Sometimes imagination is the only weapon against reality.”
Characters of Colfax is the Colfax Ave Business Improvement District’s new blog. We plan on telling unbelievable personal stories, in an attempt to piece the grander story that is Colfax. Feel free to contact us with new stories, memories, and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.