Chain Gang

Chain gang: The slow-growth approach of Red Robin CEO Mike Snyder (see review this week) is a rarity in the restaurant biz; most chain enterprises seem determined to conquer the world -- and conquer it quickly.

Exhibit A: Highlands Ranch, which just gained a new C.B. & Potts (its fourth Colorado location) at 43 West Centennial Parkway, as well as a Rubio's Baja Grill at 3620 Highlands Ranch Parkway (that's the company's fourth fish taco joint in the state). And the Highlands Ranch Rodizio Grill, at 8545 South Quebec, which had lost part of its kitchen to a fire in December, has reopened; while it was closed, the LoDo outpost (in the Icehouse, at 1801 Wynkoop Street) of this exotic chain gang did double duty and kept its gaucho-clad servers busy running skewers of charred meat out to carnivorous customers.

Exhibit B: Cherry Creek, where a California Pizza Kitchen is scheduled to open in the shopping center in mid-April, joining Roy's, a classy link in a Hawaiian-themed (and high-priced) chain that debuted at the end of December. Roy's, which occupies the old home of the Rattlesnake, seems to be enjoying a tidal wave of business that the California Pizza Kitchen is no doubt eying with envy. This will be CPK's first Colorado store, taking over a space vacated by Sfuzzi, whose impending demise I wrote about on a few months ago -- a report vehemently denied at the time by a defensive management team and some very upset employees.

Local entrepreneurs are doing some empire-building, too. Sean Kelly recently opened his second eatery, The Biscuit, in the spot at 719 East 17th Avenue that had been Petit Louis. I stopped in and found myself swooning over Kelly's garlic-potent Caesar ($6), a beautiful roast eggplant sandwich ($7) and a comfort-foody double-chocolate pudding ($4). Now, that's what I call lunch. Kelly has spruced up the space a bit, and it's a cute, comfy place for a midday repast or a quick breakfast nosh (it's not open for dinner). But that works, because Kelly's original restaurant, Aubergine Cafe, at 225 East Seventh Avenue ( see Second Helping), is open only at night. Aubergine is always packed -- reservations are a must -- and the Biscuit was a good way for Kelly to expand operations without getting in over his head.

Aubergine occupies what was the original home of Benny's over a decade ago; today crowds flock to a much larger version of this Mexican cantina at 301 East Seventh Avenue. In addition to killer margs and hot, hot green chile, Benny's now offers another amenity: an ATM machine, so that the cashiers can finally quit taking checks (too many bounced, according to manager Tony Garrido). This is owner Benny Armas's third attempt to institute a "no-check" policy; installing an ATM ensures that hungover customers who used all their cash the night before can still spring for a plate of huevos.

And Benny's new place, Benny's in Glendale, is now up and running at 4501 East Virginia. (An earlier attempt at a second Benny's in northwest Denver didn't last too long -- although the karoake nights there were a real kick.) The Glendale outpost has the same menu and will also accept checks, since there's no ATM. Not yet, anyway.

Leftovers: LoDo clubs and restaurants -- basically, anyplace that isn't a steakhouse -- are still smarting financially over their lousy New Year's Eve, when police officers in riot gear outnumbered the revelers on the streets (Mouthing Off, January 13). Better luck next year: Remember that in the wake of all the whining, the mayor's office promised that Denver would have a real celebration on December 31, 2000 -- the true eve of the millennium.

Still, at last week's Downtown Denver Partnership meeting, Denver police captain John Lamb said the city stands by its decision to smother LoDo with cops that night. "We wanted to be very prepared for anything," he told the audience, "and I apologize to no one for that level of preparedness."

I'll apologize to Denver Post writer Diane Gould for clumsy phrasing in my February 17 Mouthing Off. The word "cranky" was intended to refer to her reviews, not to her attitude regarding her position at the paper. For the record, Gould assures us that she's getting more food-writing assignments than ever now that Hsaio-Ching Chou has left the Post.


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