Marla Yetka

Co-founder and chief experience officer
Bigsby's Folly Craft Winery & Events Venue

Location: Denver, CO
Founded: 2016
Industry: Hospitality

For years, Marla Yetka and her husband, Chad, dreamed of retiring to Napa Valley where they planned to own and operate a winery, but the couple took a risk and opted for an urban winery instead. They sold most of what they had, including their dream home, and founded Bigsby’s Folly in Denver’s RiNo (River North Art District) neighborhood.

They named the operation for their first, beloved golden retriever, Bigsby, and Folly was a lighthearted acknowledgement of their risk they were taking. Bigsby’s Folly aimed to create an authentic and accessible winery. In her role as chief experience officer, Yetka built an impressive brand and market share, using her marketing experience to set the brand apart. She orchestrated the 1920s vibe of the winery, trained staff to embrace a culture of service and excellence and incorporated ongoing philanthropy into the business.

Things were taking off, and plans were in the works for a second location. Then the pandemic hit, forcing a reset, and it was then that Marla’s ingenuity really kicked in.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a great teacher. It created lessons for all of us in leadership, resiliency, and compassion,” she said. “For a small business in the hospitality industry, it was the ultimate test. I learned hands-on, the true meaning of GRIT — the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and persevere in the face of adversity.”

The company launched a successful #whatschadwearning social media campaign in which Marla’s husband would deliver curbside in a different costume every day. Customers caught on and even offered Halloween costumes for Chad to wear. Marla forged a partnership with a mural artist to share artwork on wine labels. She launched a plan to offer health care workers a free pint of wine, which grew to 6,000 free pints over three weeks. The community responded with purchases that kept the winery going, and she rehired staff that had been furloughed to keep up with demand. There were subsequent campaigns to support teachers and first responders, evolving into a Colorado Strong initiative to raise money for the restaurant industry.

“From the beginning of the March 2020 lockdown we were determined to fight for our business, for our employees and for our community,” Marla said. “We took it upon ourselves to provide more than our typical menu offerings of food and wine by serving up relevant intangibles like humor, compassion and gratitude.”

Bigsby’s Folly has plans to expand into a new location, Superior, Colorado, and eventually move into markets outside of Colorado, with an initial focus on Scottsdale, Arizona, and Marla’s hometown, Chicago. The winery is also investigating opportunities at the airport and hopes to be part of the multiyear expansion program underway at Denver International Airport. With COVID-19 delays finally behind them, Bigsby’s is back on track to becoming a leading force in the urban winery sector with a multistate footprint within the next five years.

“For Marla, the business is personal. Her business is her passion. Her business network, industry leadership and her philanthropy — it’s all personal. She pours her heart and soul into it, and it impacts every aspect of her life,” her staff said.

Bigsby’s Folly has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, but for Marla, what really stands out is how the business persevered through the pandemic and emerged stronger than ever.

“I’m so proud to have created, with my husband, something from nothing,” Marla said, “a place people come to for all of their life celebrations. A place people feel at home and like part of our family.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic was a great teacher. It created lessons for all of us in leadership, resiliency, and compassion."

Marla says: