Nearly a year has passed since Robert Tournier served the last bowl of mussels at his 34-year-old French restaurant, Le Central. But a new lease has finally been signed for the vacant space at Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Street; Denver newcomer Christopher Fehlinger expects to unveil Clyde — a wine bar and shared-plates eatery — later this year.
Fehlinger comes to Denver with thirty years of front-of-house restaurant experience in New York, Los Angeles and, most recently, Santa Fe. He was already in the process of putting together a business plan when he learned of OpenTable's Restaurant Open competition, so he sent in an entry and is now one of three finalists (and the only one outside of California) who will compete for cash and prizes. The final competition involves a Kickstarter fundraiser that will launch on August 1. Each of the three restaurateurs will have forty days to raise $35,000, and the campaign that raises the most money in that time will also win an additional $15,000, new restaurant supplies and, most important, a free subscription to a year's worth of OpenTable, which Fehlinger says could end up being worth more than the other prizes combined, depending on how many customer book reservations in the first year.
Fehlinger signed the lease on the restaurant space on June 14 and is awaiting several landlord improvements (including a new roof) before building out his vision. He was still living in Santa Fe when friends in Denver told him about the vacancy, so he drove up to take a look. "I said 'This is amazing, [but] it's way too big for anything I want to do,'" he recalls.
But the more he thought about it, the more he realized it was exactly what he wanted. Rather than gutting the interior and starting from scratch, he plans to leave the floor plan as it is, with several attached rooms instead of one open space. He'll add a long bar in the western wing and hopes to convert what is now a service station in the kitchen into a chef's table where groups can reserve the whole table and order large-format dishes like whole-roasted goat or whole salt-baked fish, for example.
There's also an office that he says is way too big, so he'd like to convert part of it into a speakeasy within the restaurant, with tableside cocktail service rather than a bar. On the east side of the building, there will be a separate shop selling upscale housewares, including some of the same service-ware (like wooden serving boards and other handmade items) that will be used inside the restaurant.
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Fehlinger describes his goal for the menu as "wine-friendly with a Mediterranean twist." And the wine program, which will be the main draw, will eventually reach 500 bottles, mostly under $80 a bottle, he explains.
Clyde (named after Fehlinger's French bulldog) will open in the morning for coffee and housemade pastries (the restaurant comes with a large pastry kitchen downstairs), for lunch with light counter-service fare, and for dinner with full table service. A final inspection and transfer of the liquor license is scheduled for July 24; after that, Fehlinger says, he'd like to host a series of pop-up dinners inside the restaurant before the actual opening.
In addition to the OpenTable competition, Fehlinger has been selected as one of sixteen semi-finalists competing in Trout Tank: Food Frenzy, a contest sponsored by the Colorado Small Business Development Center that awards cash and business support to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Fehlinger notes that if all goes as he hopes, he will be able to open Clyde with minimal debt, thanks to Kickstarter funds and prizes from the two contests.