The weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day are a slow period, as many of us take off from work to travel or spend time with friends and family. The same is generally true in the restaurant industry: New projects grind to a halt because finding staff is tough, scheduling contractors to finish work is tougher, and getting permits and licenses from government agencies is nearly impossible.
But the situation in Denver is different this year, as the sheer number of new restaurants opening over the past two years means that competition for dining dollars is fierce. One eatery, Sushi Ronin, opened on Saturday, January 2, in lower Highland; chef-partner Corey Baker says he opened as soon as possible after receiving the restaurant’s final liquor-license sign-off and certificate of occupancy from the city on December 30.
“I’ve been trying to get this place open for the past month and a half,” Baker explains. “But at the same time, things worked out pretty well.” Despite a lack of publicity, Sushi Ronin’s dining room and bar were packed on opening night.
One of the dangers of opening so close to the holidays is that new employees may already have vacation time planned. The chef says that’s true in his kitchen, too; it’s one of the reasons that he’s taking his time ramping up the sushi-bar program. With plenty of good, fresh fish available now, he’s holding off on rolling out more adventurous items — think live sea urchin and octopus — until he’s fully staffed with sushi chefs who have already committed to working for him but are currently tied up with other commitments.
In the meantime, the small-plates menu offers plenty of unique tastes — like nanbanzuke (“southern barbarian” pickled fish) — that Baker thinks will help Ronin stand out from the many other sushi bars in town. “It’s a traditional, esoteric [Japanese] menu of small things that have a lot of love put into them,” he adds.
And he’s not the only part of the team who’s busy right now. Restaurateur Alex Gurevich, the man behind the scenes at Sushi Ronin, recently closed his Peruvian cafe, Limón, and is in the process of ushering in something new at its former Uptown address, spearheaded by managing partner Larry Lane.
Gurevich says Lane’s new project will be called Bread-N-Butter and will be a Southern-themed whiskey-and-bourbon bar with a gastropub menu of regional specialties from the American South. The team hopes to complete the flip and have Bread-N-Butter open by February 1.
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Lane explains that the bar program will lean heavily toward bourbon and other whiskeys, with barrel-aged cocktails and house-aged bourbons as a focus. "The food will be elevated and 'gastro-esque,'" he adds, with dishes priced from $5 to $20 representing Southern coastal regions from Texas to Maryland.
Lane also runs the aptly named Next Door Lounge, which shares a wall and doorways with the Bread-N-Butter space. He plans to create more synergy between the two by opening up the doors after dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays.