By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Friday is catfish day at Caro's Corner (see review, page 71), where five bucks will net you a dozen nuggets. Besides burgers and the odd order of fries, catfish is the only thing that Jeffreyand Linda Patterson -- Caro's cooks, owners and sole employees -- offer on their menu. And while that's more than enough when the burgers and catfish are good, it got me thinking that Denver is otherwise sadly deficient in the Southern-fried-catfish department. There's Pierre's Supper Club (2157 Downing Street) and Cafe Evangeline (30 South Broadway). There used to be Shead's Fish and BBQ Heaven at 15320 East Hampden Avenue in Aurora, but that closed to make way for a coffee bar, leaving only the original Shead's, at 1685 Peoria Street -- where the whiting and perch are better than the catfish, anyway.
And what of M&D's Bar-B-Que & Fish Palace (2004 East 28th Avenue)? The 26-year-old institution run by Mackand Daisy Shead (yes, they're related to the Aurora Sheads) has been closed for renovations for months -- but just last week, I learned that a new and improved M&D's will be open for business within the next two weeks.
New and improved? You can bet your last short rib on it. Thanks to the deep pockets of the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, M&D's has received a whopping $1,093,000 worth of loans over the past twelve months for debt consolidation, renovation and expansion. And if that sounds like an awful lot of scratch, you're right. Adega (1700 Wynkoop Street), one of the most luxe joints in town, fixed up its LoDo space for less money than that. Indigo(250 Josephine Street), Vega (410 East Seventh Avenue) -- same thing. Most places -- even some very swank, white-tablecloth-and-custom-chairs kind of spots -- manage to decorate for less than $100,000. According to Bill Lysaught, MOED deputy director, the loan "was on the high end, but we've had others, and we've had bigger."
MOED has been approving loans for independent Denver businesses since 1978. It averages around thirty transactions a year, using federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earmarked "specifically for low- and moderate-income neighborhoods," says Lysaught. "A lot of what we do is help create businesses that make neighborhoods more livable and attractive." These loans fund projects that are designed to eliminate urban blight (while a BBQ joint may not do that, exactly, BBQ certainly makes blight smell better), create jobs and expand existing businesses or attract new ones. "I have a lot of restaurants on my books," he adds, "because they are a big part of making neighborhoods more beautiful and livable."
Which is great, but that million-dollar loan still sounds like a big chunk of change.
"The condition of the building drove the size of this loan," Lysaught responds. "It was the complete renovation of 6,000 square feet." M&D's also purchased the former liquor store next door to double its number of seats, gutted and modernized the kitchen, added a deck and paid off six figures' worth of debt.
Again, that's great, but is it a million bucks' worth of great?
You have to look at MOED's history, Lysaught says. The agency loaned money to Imperial Chinese Restaurant(now at 431 South Broadway), helping to inspire the rebirth of that stretch of Broadway. It aided the expansion of El Noa Noa's 1920 Federal Boulevard location after its flagship restaurant, at 722 Santa Fe Drive, was such a success. And way back when, MOED even gave a six-figure boost to a young entrepreneur named John Hickenlooper when he needed some hard cash to start his first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Co. (1634 18th Street), in the days before the streets of LoDo were paved with gold (and frat-boy vomit).
While MOED's revolving-loan fund and neighborhood business revitalization program works like a bank -- requiring small-business owners to go through an application process that includes the approval of a business plan and the registering of land and property as collateral -- it actually prohibits MOED from making any loan that a bank might make on its own. "We run the program like a bank but lend to higher-risk clients," Lysaught says. "We say to the banks, 'Before you turn down Joe or Sally Doe, send them to us.'" And, of course, MOED's clients are "expected to repay the loans," he adds. "We actively pursue collections. And all that money goes back into the revolving loan fund."
Hey buddy, can you spare $25,000? Across town, a few of the businesses in the Platte Valley would like the loan fund to revolve their way, and also see the finish of the Millennium Bridge link between Platte Street and the 16th Street Mall. Construction delays have discouraged potential customers from visiting the area, they say. In fact, things got so rough that Regina Chavez y Sanchez, owner of La Taza Cafe and Market, 1550 Platte Street, turned to the Internet for help. She's soliciting donations on her Web site, www.savemybusiness.net, to keep her small coffee shop going. "I'm still praying that things will turn around," she says. "Things are still tough, but will we be staying open? Absolutely."