Think you've got the worst service job in the world? Think again, my friend. In anticipation of the National Western Stock Show, which kicked off January 8 and runs through January 28, local Village Inn employees were given orders to wear plastic sheriff stars on their uniforms, bandannas around their necks and (in some cases) cowboy hats, and to greet every customer with "Howdy, I'm Blank, and I'm the new sheriff in town" before trying to tempt him into ordering some new Stock Show-themed skillet breakfast.
So how long before that got tiresome? Oh, about thirty seconds. I've never seen a floor staff quite so dispirited and demoralized as those poor Howdy Doody-looking bastards I saw lurching around the floor last weekend at the Village Inn at Iliff and Chambers, trying their best not to die from embarrassment.
All you servers out there, remember: No matter how bad the tips, how stupid the customers or how long the shift, it could always be worse. At least you're not shlepping steak and eggs around the dining room while looking out from under the brim of a ten-gallon hat and listening to everyone in the room call you Tex.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot: Neither Cielo nor the nearby Minturn Saloon survived the holidays, leaving two prime locations ripe for the picking. Nor do things look good at Manna Bakery, which I wrote about in the September 9 Bite Me. I knew the place was struggling, and I'd been getting semi-regular updates from owner Jeff Noble -- which ended with a voice-mail message right around Christmas in which he reported that the holidays weren't shaping up the way he'd hoped. And now a call to the Littleton bakery reaches only a recording that says Manna will be closed until the end of January while Noble is on vacation. That doesn't sound promising.
There's action downtown at Hotel Teatro, where Jou Jou, the more casual companion to Kevin Taylor's namesake restaurant, is turning into Prima. According to Kerri Canon, director of sales and marketing, the space is "re-concepting" -- moving away from the pre-theater, bistro stereotype and positioning itself as a more upscale, fine-dining kind of spot. "We'll be hoping to go for more of the post-theater, eight o'clock-ish crowd," she explains. "And also the business lunch and brunch crowds."
The menu, which is still in the planning stages, will be modern Italian. "Nothing kitschy," says Canon, which means no family-style service, no pope's heads on the tables. Jou Jou sous chef Kevin Donovan will remain at his post after the name change And when will that be? "Sometime in the next four to six weeks," Canon predicts. Because of Taylor's commitment to the hotel (room service has always been done out of Jou Jou), the space will go dark only briefly. During that time, room service will be transferred to the Restaurant Kevin Taylor line, Jou Jou will be completely renovated and its menu changed over, and Prima will open no more than 72 hours later.
So it's a good thing that Taylor doesn't have Palettes to worry about right now. His cafe at the Denver Art Museum will remain closed until at least September, Canon says, with its reopening wholly dependent on how the DAM's expansion is going.
Over in Cherry Creek, Mel's Restaurant and Bar, at 235 Fillmore Street, reopened last week after being shut down for two weeks -- over prime holiday time -- after a fire in a nearby salon. Owner Mel Master and chef Tyler Wiard used the unexpected break (and the insurance money, no doubt) to overhaul the dining room; the menu got an update, too.
But the real growth spurt is at 2355 East Third Avenue, where Amore Ristorante started out the new year with expansion plans. The intimate (a polite way to say small and cramped), white-tablecloth Italian restaurant has been rocking the house since it opened in November 2003, doing "nothing but great business," according to owner Greg Goldfogel. "People say they love the food, love the service -- and the only thing I sometimes hear is that it's too crowded." But soon there will be no reason for that complaint: As of January 1, Goldfogel had signed papers making the former design-store space next door all his. "The first thing we're going to do is decompress the dining room," he says. Some of the existing seating will move into the new space, and he'll also add a twenty-foot (non-smoking) bar, better signage and a few more tables.
"But I'm emphasizing few," he adds. "You know how it is. We have a small kitchen here, and it would be tough to serve many more tables than we already are." Buildout began last week; Goldfogel thinks the expansion may be complete as early as mid-January.
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Charity begins at home: Out at 12200 East Cornell Avenue in Aurora, Denver Woodlands capped a successful holiday season with an all-day buffet to benefit survivors of the Asian tsunami. The January 2 event drew over 500 guests -- probably more customers than previous occupant Maruti Narayan's saw during its entire run -- and raised just over eight grand for the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund of India. Owner Kannan Alagappan was happy, and more than a little surprised, at the turnout. "The people all loved the food," he says. "And I think they appreciated the help we've given to the community."
Alagappan opened his all-vegetarian, everything-from-scratch contemporary Indian restaurant seven months ago. "As you know, this was a dead location," he says. "I think we've brought it back to life. Things have been good, so I can't complain, but what do they say? Every day is a new adventure."
On January 15, the adventure will be a special off-menu lunch buffet to mark the Indian Pongal harvest festival (a little like Thanksgiving in its celebration of agricultural bounty, but bigger than Christmas for the Tamils and folks in Andhra Pradesh, where it's celebrated over four consecutive days). And in the future, Alagappan hopes to find a better home for his restaurant than its godawful current location. "I'm thinking of opening something in the DTC," he says.
On Tuesday, January 18, local boys Sean Yontz, Sean Kelly and Jamey Fader will team up for a one-night-only engagement at Mezcal (3230 East Colfax Avenue) to benefit one of that restaurant's servers, who recently lost everything she owned in an apartment fire. The way the story goes, Danielle, the server in question, found her place torched a few weeks back as thanks for being a Good Samaritan and calling the fuzz on some jerkoff in her building who was beating up his wife. Danielle got out unharmed (being a food-service employee, she was still awake at the time of the fire), but her stuff was not so lucky. She lost everything, and now members of the Denver restaurant community are trying to give a little back. The $100-a-plate benefit dinner will be a four- or five-course deal, with Kelly on meats, Fader doing a seafood main course (his restaurant, Lola, employs Danielle's boyfriend), and the guys from Mezcal handling the rest. For more information (and reservations, if things start to fill up), give Mezcal a ring at 303-322-5219.