Comings and goings: Boy, there's nothing like raving about a general manager in a review only to find out on the day the paper hits the stands that the general manager has packed up and moved on.
Salvatore Galati was reason alone to visit Mediterra at 1475 Lawrence Street ("Med Alert," April 23). The restaurant's general manager was a real showman--or at least he was until two weeks ago, when he decided to make some life and career changes. It seems that simultaneously, the place he'd been renting at Brooks Towers was sold, the love affair he'd been having with a co-worker reached a boiling point, and he thought maybe he wanted to be back at the Mediterra in Princeton, New Jersey. That's where he was working last year until he was handpicked by the owners of both Mediterras, the Momo brothers, to help open Denver's Mediterra last September. Now, Venanzio Momo says, Galati is even thinking about returning to his native Italy.
I wish Galati had told me all that during the hour-long phone chat we had after I'd eaten at Mediterra, because then I wouldn't have spent half the page describing how much of a presence he was in an eatery that has been having quite a few production problems. As Venanzio himself admits, Mediterra hasn't yet found its niche, but now that the goofy Galati--and I mean that in a good way, because he was fun to watch--is out of the picture, Venanzio and sibling Anthony intend to make a few changes in the upcoming weeks. The main, and wisest, move they'll make is to bring back the authentic tapas they offered when they first opened ($1 tidbits with great drink specials). They'll also drop the 21-country concept that Galati introduced and go back to what the Momos do best: Italian. "It'll be more Med-Ital," says Venanzio. "We need to bring the prices back down to attract the kind of crowd that should be coming here, and we'll get the patio jumping."
The patio is one of my favorite things about Mediterra--along with the hip atmosphere--and while I don't expect Mediterra to turn into a carbon copy of the Momos' other ventures (Cucina Colore, Pizza Colore), I do have great expectations. Cucina Colore is one of my favorite restaurants in town, which is why Mediterra's troubles had puzzled me. But what Venanzio says was wrong with the place makes sense: "You can't do 21 countries without things getting a little weird." And he adds that, as with any business (and certainly the Momos' restaurant that preceded Mediterra, Teresa's Caffe), the people who are running the place on a day-to-day basis have a lot to do with how well it succeeds. "With Teresa's, we just didn't have people there who were married to it," Venanzio says. "You have to have people working for you who are committed like you are. And you have to move toward your clientele, not away from it, which is what I think Salvatore was doing with Mediterra."
Venanzio has high hopes that he and Anthony know what to do to make Mediterra work. "Salvatore had that car analogy about food in Denver, and I have one about Mediterra," he says. "She's like a beautiful woman, or even a beautiful man. Everyone wants to look at her, but no one has the balls to date her. I think this place just needs someone who's not afraid to take her on."
Meanwhile, a few other veterans in town have been making moves. Roger Turek, the general manager of Morton's Steakhouse (1710 Wynkoop Street), also resigned abruptly last month; he's reportedly working on other deals in the mountains. Tom Brewer, Morton's assistant manager, also moved on; he's now at a competing steakhouse, The Palm (1201 16th Street). Rich Salturelli, former owner of, among other places, Beacon Grill (303 16th Street), has been trying to buy Beatty's (the "J" has been dropped), at 321 East Colfax Avenue. The word on the street was that it was a done deal, but in reality, everyone involved has been forced to play a little hardball--and as of press time, nothing was settled. Jim Beatty has been serving up killer BLTs to legislators--the building sits right across from the Capitol--for over fourteen years, but he's also gotten more and more involved in the concessions business, working the Colorado State Fair and Pikes Peak International Raceway. "Last year I spent half my time elsewhere, and in the full-service restaurant business, you just can't be away that long," Beatty says. "I'm getting a little burned out on it anyway, and I felt like this was the time to get out."
He may not be able to. The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver owns the building that houses the restaurant--it's just across a side street from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception--and Beatty says Archbishop Charles Chaput put the kibosh on the deal. But neither he nor the Archdiocese will say why. "We're supposed to meet again on it, and it may happen real fast," Beatty says. Greg Kail, spokesman for the Archdiocese's communications department, confirms that the lease with Beatty runs until 2002 but says he can't comment further on the situation. "I'm not real sure what's going on," he adds. "But something may happen on it soon."
Trek right on outta here: No, really, I'm delighted to report that Cafe Odyssey--which is like the Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Buster's and every pseudo-ethnic chain (e.g., Olive Garden, Taco Bell) rolled into one--plans to open a store at the Denver Pavilions later this year. The concept at Odyssey is--and I quote from its literature--"travel and discovery conveyed through the use of specially designed furnishings and decorations, as well as state-of-the-art entertainment technology systems which provide a unique sight and sound experience."
I guess this means we can finally get rid of all those pesky little locally owned restaurants that do nothing but serve good food in a comfortable atmosphere.
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.