There are myriad reasons to remember Al Marcove, the restaurateur, caterer, hamburger guru, mentor and unofficial "Mayor of Cherry Creek Mall," who died April 22.
But Marcove's greatest legacy is almost assuredly that he celebrated life by treating people -- employees, acquaintances, friends and customers -- with integrity and respect. "Always striving for a higher level of customer service, quality and innovation, Al was unrelenting and the most loyal friend and employer that I have come to know," mused Dazzle Supper Club owner Donald Rossa, who also worked at Sfuzzi, a former restaurant at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, where Marcove held court at his own table.
"He knew exactly where he wanted to sit, and for the seven years I was at Sfuzzi, table 51 was Al's, front and center. When you walked in to Sfuzzi, the first person you saw was Al and his wife, Lauren," remembered Rossa.
Marcove would become even more familiar with the Cherry Creek Shopping Center in 1990, when he took over Paul's Place, a popular upscale burger joint that Marcove ran for a dozen years before eventually closing the restaurant with a bang on April 12, 2002 -- by offering free cheeseburgers, sodas and fries and donating all the profits from his last ten days in business to the Ronald McDonald House.
Despite the fact that Paul's Place, which also had outposts on the 16th Street Mall and in Park Meadows, was named for Paul Lambert, the previous owner of the Cherry Creek restaurant, Marcove kept the name and put up with customer after customer calling him Paul, even though his name badge, which he wore every day, clearly said "Al." "He didn't care about that," said John Imbergamo, a restaurant public relations and marketing consultant, and longtime friend of Marcove. "He just cared about making people happy."
But Marcove wasn't above reveling in a little happiness of his own, too. "He would tell me that one of his proudest moments was getting an 'A' review in the Rocky Mountain News from restaurant critic Bill St. John," recalled Imbergamo.
St. John, in fact, loved Paul's Place. "Is this the best fast-food in town or what?" he wrote in his review.
Marcove, who got his start in the restaurant business when he and his brother, Gerald, formed VSA, a company that supplied food items to vending-machine route people, went on to invest in several other big-name Denver restaurants, including Rattlesnake Grill, Cucina Leone, Prime 121 and Mel's in Cherry Creek, all of which have closed. But Marcove's former catering company, Paul's Place Catering, which he later sold to Ingrid and Cade Nagy, is still thriving under its new name, Catering by Design.
"He was a mentor to many, including myself," revealed Rossa."He more than took care of the people that surrounded him."
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And in a fitting tribute to Marcove, Rossa said this: "To my friend, Al: table 51 is ready with Kettle One Citron on the rocks, Macy's cheese sticks, chunks of cheese, sausage and assorted olives...just to get you started."
On a personal note, my son, who was four years old when Marcove closed Paul's Place, was a huge fan of the joint's burgers and bottomless sundae bar -- and of Marcove, who always had a wide, effortless smile for both him and his mom.