After nearly four years on Seventeenth Avenue's Restaurant Row, Olivea, the intimate Mediterranean restaurant owned by husband-and-wife duo Stephanie Bonin and Keith Arnold, who also oversee Duo in Highland, will close in mid-January. The couple, who opened Olivea in May 2009, are moving to the East Coast in June.
"We made a very personal decision to move to Vermont," says Bonin, who has two young children with her husband. "We want to simplify our lives, and I grew up in Vermont, and Keith is from New Hampshire, and we just feel this incredible urge to be around family, and while selling Olivea is heartbreaking, we're really looking forward to having a different lifestyle in a small town, and sharing that experience with our girls."
But while Olivea is shuttering, the twosome won't sell Duo, which opened seven years ago in Lower Highland. "Juggling two restaurants is a challenge," admits Bonin, "but at Duo, we have the same GM, Bobby Rayburn, who's been with us for eight years, and Tyler Skrivanek, our chef de cuisine, has been with us since 2005, so we're going to keep Duo because it's a more mature restaurant than Olivea, and it requires a little less attention on our part."
And while the Bonins will no longer be in Denver to work the crowds, Bonin says that she and Arnold will continue to have a presence. "We expect to fly back at various times, and we can Skype when it comes to meetings." She notes, too, that John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (the couple that owns Spuntino) will continue their respective roles at Duo as executive chef and pastry chef. "They were the driving force behind creating the concept of Olivea -- it was their vision, and they'll continue to write all of the menus and train the staff on each and every dish," says Bonin.
What will she Bonin miss the most? "I adore being a restaurateur," she says. "When I work the floor and interact with our guests, that's when I'm in my glory -- and I've loved being part of the growth of the Denver dining scene." She's also been involved in EatDenver, and adds that "it's been so interesting being a part of two very different neighborhood cultures."
In fact, when she and Arnold opened Duo in Lower Highland, the decision raised eyebrows. "When we decided to do Duo, people told it was a neighborhood that was on the wrong side of Federal -- that it was a huge risk -- but it's become an incredibly vibrant neighborhood, just like Uptown, and it's been so fulfilling to be a part of both," says Bonin.
The couple broke the news to the staff of Olivia's forthcoming closure last week, and while Bonin says it wasn't easy -- shuttering a restaurant never is -- she says their employees have been supportive. "We told the staff last week, and we pledged to call all of our restaurateur friends so we can help them find them jobs, but they're excited for us and supportive of our decision...they know it takes a lot of guts to just get up and move," she explains.
"It's been a great three-and-a-half years at Olivea -- it's been fabulous -- but we did a lot of soul-searching before coming to this decision," stresses Bonin, "and we know that both restaurants are so much bigger than me and Keith, and I thank all those people for everything they've done for us."
When the two move to Vermont, Bonin says that they'll take a year off to spend time with their kids -- and then open another restaurant. "We actually have an eye on a space right now, but we're going to take our time," she reveals.
"We know we're fortunate, and leaving all of this behind is definitely sad for us," she says, "but we're leaving Duo in very good hands -- Bobby and Tyler will take good care of it -- and we have a deal on the table right now to sell Olivea to someone I think will do a great job here."
In the meantime, you only have a few weeks left to get a taste of Olivea. "We're going to invite all of our regulars in for one last dinner," says Bonin "They've been wonderful to us -- Denver has been wonderful to us. It's been a fantastic experience."
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