For more than a year Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria, Frank Bonanno's first restaurant outside of Denver city limits, made a go of it in a tough Park Meadows Shopping Center location -- tough for independent restaurateurs, at least, if not for the national chains. "We loved the mall -- the mall was kind to us," says Bonanno. But in the end, he adds, "We just couldn't afford the rent."
"We had some great, great customers...but not enough of them," adds Bonanno, whose other ventures include the Governor's Park family of Mizuna, Luca D'Italia, Bones and Vesper Lounge, as well as Osteria Marco downtown and the new Salt & Grinder deli in Highland, among other ventures. The chef/restaurateur says Bonanno Brothers was putting out food and offering service to compete with such corporate eateries as Brio and White Chocolate Grill, but that tap wines, small-name products -- like Boylan's sodas instead of Coke or Pepsi -- and fresh, local ingredients just lacked drawing power in the suburban location.
"I'm not bitter," he says, "but disappointed. It's a tough business decision to make." Still, it was a good run for the only restaurant he's owned with a partner, and he thinks the pizzeria could have turned the corner within another two or three years. But instead, they closed it over Labor Day weekend.
Frank Bonanno in the kitchen at Salt & Grinder.
Bonanno is focusing instead on his going concerns, especially Salt & Grinder, the baby of his group. He says he'd like to expand the New York-style deli to two or three other locations in Denver, and possibly out of state.
"I'd like to go into Nashville -- it's great out there," he says, talking about a recent trip to the food-friendly city to scope out possible locations. While there, he was turned on to Nashville hot chicken after visits to such iconic, fiery fried-chicken joints as Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's. And even if a new S&G location in Nashville doesn't pan out, Denver has already gained from Bonanno's visit there: He's added hot chicken to the menu at Lou's Food Bar in Sunnyside.
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