Midtown.That's what Peter Kudla, the COO of Metropolitan Homes and the developer of Vallagio at Inverness, a suburban mini-sprawl of retailers, lofts and restaurants in Englewood, chose to call his development when it came to fruition last year. "It's a unique dimension down here," said Kudla, when I asked him about the "Midtown" moniker last February. "We have a daytime business population in excess of 20,000, but there aren't a lot of restaurant choices, with the exception of Park Meadows and Arapahoe Road, and we feel like we have a distinctive opportunity, especially at dinner, to draw crowds from the Tech Center, and as far away as Highlands Ranch."
But one of those restaurant choices, namely Russo's Kitchen + Tavern, which opened last May, clearly didn't "draw crowds," because Kudla shuttered it yesterday, making note of its closure on the front door, the signage of which admits that the restaurant's "efforts have not resulted in the quality of product that was anticipated at Russo's Kitchen and Tavern."
Russo's opening kitchen chief -- and former Barolo Grill chef -- Brian Laird, who now devotes his time to creating housemade pastas at Sketch, was fired by Kudla just a few months after Kudla and Mark Dym, who owns Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria in the Ballpark neighborhood and a second outpost at the Vallagio, hired him. At the time, Dym was Kudla's partner in the Vallagio project, but that partnership has since dissolved. And in the year that Russo's was open, it changed concepts...more than once. When Laird was cooking, he was doing Italian cuisine (sided with matzo ball soup at Kudla's request), but over the past two months, the restaurant, walled with photos, many with Kudla standing front and center, had been pimping Cajun and Creole dishes alongside Navajo tacos, meatloaf and ravioli -- a menu indicative of a joint with no direction or focus.
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When I got Laird on the phone this morning to ask him about Russo's demise, he was blunt. "Perhaps if there was more consistency, a loyalty to his commitments and Peter trusted the people he hires to do a good job, they'd still be open," reflects Laird. "After working for so many years for the best in the business, I know that you have to be committed to the people you've hired to do the job. My experience at Russo's suggested that Peter didn't see things that way."
Kudla didn't respond to an e-mail I sent yesterday asking about Russo's closure, but according to the signage, he's on the prowl for another restaurateur to operate the space. If -- and when -- he finds someone, that person will be vying for customers who also frequent Marco's and Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, the Vallagio restaurant operated by Mary Nguyen, who also owns Parallel Seventeen in Uptown.