Larry Herz is adamant. "No," he says. "No. You gotta go back and check what I said. Read your column. I said, 'I will never open a restaurant again.'"
And damn it if he isn't right: That's exactly what he said when we talked six months ago ("Herz Tries Harder," January 19). And he said it that way because, even then, he thought he might buy Seven 30 South from owners Scott Holtzer and Ron Girardi.
And Herz was as good as his word: He didn't open a new restaurant; he just went out and acquired one that had been in business at 730 South University Boulevard for almost seven years. The deal came down last month, but Herz had already been on board as Seven 30 South's manager since last winter. "I got to test-drive it for six months," he tells me. "How often do you get that kind of chance?"
Last year, after closing down Go Fish Grille (in the 250 Josephine Street space that's now home to Tula), Herz had worked as a manager for Kevin Taylor at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House -- glad to be collecting a paycheck some place where it wasn't his ass (and his credit rating) on the line. But all the while, he was scouting the market. "I spent a year looking," he says. He seriously considered about a half-dozen places -- including both locations of Rodney's -- but he did so quietly, signing confidentiality agreements and then staying mum.
And what went wrong with those other deals? "You know how it is," he says, and laughs. "The numbers don't add up to what people say they're going to. They say they're doing $200,000 a week, and then you look at the books.... I think it's like they're hoping they'll get some guy who doesn't know how to read a P&L sheet."
Herz is not one of those guys. He's a veteran with decades on the job and both brilliant successes (Carmine's on Penn) and miserable failures (Indigo) behind him. He knows his way around, and like any good operator, he's learned caution and restraint. So for six months, he stood his post as a salaried manager at Seven 30 South. He got to see the business from the inside, got to tinker with things on someone else's dime, and when he was convinced that the deal was as good in reality as it looked on paper, he pulled the trigger.
"The place does tremendous business," Herz says. "It's not owner-driven, not chef-driven; it's location-driven. And the location is great. You couldn't ask for a better location, right? What works now is the neighborhood place. Those are the places that are making it."
In addition to a great location, Herz says Seven 30 has a good staff -- including chef Greg Sever running the kitchen -- as well as solid numbers and a loyal clientele that's supported the place for years. "It ain't broken," he says. "There's nothing to do. I haven't changed a thing."
The Daly news: One of the area's most interesting chefs, John Daly, has resigned his post at Cuba Libre ("Running on Empty," March 16) and is now pounding the pavement. "I'm leaving all my recipes, leaving all my stuff with them," he says. "They're going to be fine."
Daly had been with Cuba Libre from the start. "I helped them with everything from the concept up," he adds. And that included writing the menus, training the crew and putting all the systems in place to keep things in the back of the house running smoothly. But then the owners decided to scale back on the very adventurous and risk-taking Nuevo Cubano menu, taking things down to a much simpler, much easier version of Cuban cuisine.
Daly didn't want to do that, so he and executive sous Billie Kinsey -- who'd been with Daly for over four years, following him to Littleton after their time together at Wolfgang Puck -- gave notice and started looking for a fresh gig. A fresh gig with shorter hours. Ninety-hour weeks don't seem like so much fun to Daly, who's looking forward to starting a family.
And someday soon, he hopes for another addition: a place of his own that he plans to call K Michele, after his new bride, Kerry. He's thinking about a French-American bistro with fine-dining food in a casual atmosphere, and already has a location picked out: the old Kilt and Candle bar in Littleton. "Twelve to eighteen months," he says, when I ask for a time frame on that deal. "But it could be sooner; it could be anything. You know how these things go."
Leftovers: The place had been disappointing on recent visits, so no one's shedding too many tears over the news that Los Troncos, the twelve-year-old Mexi-South American joint at 730 East Sixth Avenue, est´ muerto. Come September, the space will reopen as a second outpost of Lime, the upscale cantina and bar in Larimer Square that's owned by Curt Sims and Pam Savage.
Yummy Yummy Tasty Thai ("Take That," December 2, 2004) had been billing its new home in Louisville (the space previously occupied by Jules Gourmet Cafe at 605 South Boulder Road) as a second location. But then the phone was disconnected at its original spot, a weird strip-mall/motel courtyard space at 13000 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora.
Turns out that building is slated for demolition, so owner Pim Fitt had little choice but to move on. Fortunately, the new location (and now the only location) is up and running, serving lunch and dinner under a new name that's more clunky than the original (if that's possible). The new moniker: A Yummy Yummy Tasty Thai Food Restaurant. You gotta admit, that says it all.
Wolfgang Puck Express in Cherry Creek shut down last week, leaving a big, gaping hole that will soon be filled by another Paradise Bakery & Cafe. And the Grand Hyatt downtown has closed the Pinnacle Club to the public (again). This space perched on top of the Qwest tower has had a rough time of it lately. For decades it was the Petroleum Club, a private, members-only club. But after years of losing money (and members), it closed two years ago -- and everything went on the auction block.
In the summer of 2005, the space was resurrected as the Pinnacle Club, a restaurant open to the public for lunch. By last October, chef Kevin Villalovos was also offering dinner. But now, almost exactly two years after the original closure, the Pinnacle Club has gone dark. The space -- all 20,000 square feet of it -- is still available for private parties, though you'd need a lot of friends to fill that kind of room (which is more or less the problem that doomed the Pinnacle Club from the start).
With unexpected closings like that, I'd suggest that any underemployed line cook consider cooking school.
Not just any cooking school, mind you. I haven't gone soft or anything. But as much as the notion of the classroom-trained chef drives me nuts, I have to admit that the Culinary School of the Rockies has hit on a pretty cool idea for its chef-track program: a scholarship for line cooks. The $500 tuition scholarship is available to anyone currently working in a Colorado restaurant and brings the total cost of the program down to $11,050. Sure, it's expensive. But other professional programs will run you even more, and the CSR has created a special part-time schedule specifically for line cooks, which allows a student to hold down a full-time cooking gig while still attending classes.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. But just wait 'til you get your first real chef's gig, pal. Line cookin' and book learnin' will seem like summer camp.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.