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Charlie Master picked the wrong partner

Following service Saturday, Mel's Bistro at 1120 East Sixth Avenue went dark. After lots of back-and-forth and sniffing around by some of Denver's best-known chefs, Mel Master finally signed a deal to sell the last restaurant in the Master family empire to Steve Mursuli. He'll turn it into a Cuban concept restaurant to be called Mojito's Cuban Bistro and roll out the carpet in about a month.

It was Mel's son, Charlie Master, who dropped the news on me last week. And while it didn't come as a surprise (the space had been on the block for a couple of months), what did shock me a little is what Charlie has planned for his next act: He's going to work with Goose Sorenson at Solera (5410 East Colfax Avenue) as a part-timer — managing the floor on weekends and helping Goose with his wine program and the restaurant's Wednesday wine dinners.

"We've worked together before," Charlie told me, running down the list of places where the two guys have bumped shoulders, including Goose's stint on the line at the original Mel's in Cherry Creek and time the two spent together at Starfish. "We're good friends."

Location Info

Map

Solera Restaurant & Wine Bar

5410 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80220

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: East Denver

And when Charlie isn't pushing grape juice for his buddy? He's looking at a gig with Whole Foods, explaining that while his resumé is a little weird (bouncing from line cook to owner to manager and back again many times) he just "really wants to be involved with that company." It's because of his newfound obsession with farming and organic product, but also with his newfound need for an employer who will provide health insurance and a steady paycheck — since not only did Charlie find himself suddenly unemployed after the closure of Mel's, but about sixty large in the hole dating back to his business with Brix, the restaurant he'd opened in Cherry Creek three years ago with partner Chuck Cattaneo, which then expanded to a second Brix downtown.

That deal taught Charlie a very expensive lesson in whom to trust and when to sign your name to something. The way Charlie explained it, while Brix was still doing well, Cattaneo had a nice little back-door scam going whereby he'd buy kitchen equipment, allegedly destined for the restaurant, and then take those deliveries and immediately sell the gear online. Charlie, unfortunately, had signed personal guarantees for a lot of the money Cattaneo was spending to buy the equipment and had no idea what he was doing with it. He knows now, of course. But now is just a little too late. "Yeah, it was like a $60,000 college education for the last few years," he told me. "I'm going to be paying that off, making payments, for the next ten years, I think."

Meanwhile, Cattaneo may be paying his own debt — to society. For some time, he's been on the run from not just those he owed money, but the FBI — and he recently got nabbed in California for "stealing, extortion, embezzlement, being a dick," Charlie said. "Embezzlement mostly, I guess."

Cattaneo's arrest had nothing to do with what he'd done to Charlie (or what Charlie did to himself by signing off on those purchases), but rather with what he'd done to Thanos Lemonidis, nephew of Denver club guy Regas Christou, who'd once attempted to buy the downtown Brix from Cattaneo, long after Charlie had left the business. I finally got Lemonidis on the blower, and even though the guy has a case outstanding against Cattaneo, he was able to confirm that, yes, Cattaneo had taken his $50,000 down payment on the downtown Brix — and then sold it to someone else entirely. "This is the craziest shit I've ever had to deal with," Lemonidis told me — which is really something coming from a guy who's been in the bar-and-nightclub game since he was seventeen. Lemonidis also confirmed that Cattaneo had been picked up in California but is now out on a $60,000 bond pending his appearance in Denver at the end of the month.

And will Cattaneo show up? Lemonidis was thinking of laying a few bills against it with the nearest bookie. "What's good is, if he doesn't show up, the bondsmen will go after him," he concluded.

Rising star: A former Mexican restaurant in Broomfield has been sporting a sign reading "Seafood dim sum coming soon." This gave rise to the buzz that Super Star Asian would be moving there from the soon-to-be-redeveloped Alameda Square, so I called my favorite dim sum place to get the scoop.

"No," said the woman who answered the phone. "We're not moving. I don't know why everyone says we're moving."

"But when the development comes — "

"No."

"But aren't you going to have to — "

"No. I call the landlord yesterday and talk to him. He says we don't have to move."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"So what I wanted to ask about was this space up in Broomfield that I heard — "

"Oh, yeah! That's going to be our new restaurant. Second restaurant."

Sounded too good to be true, but a subsequent conversation confirmed the news. The original Super Star will remain in place without interruption, and the owner will add a second spot up north: Heaven Star Chinese Dim Sum, featuring food in the same Hong Kong style. As for when the new joint will open: "Very soon."

 
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