Have a restaurant for sale? You just might get a call from Ruth Chiffon von Seeburg-Schausten Prager, better known in these parts as Chiffon. Now fresh out of the joint, Chiffon made a name for herself in Denver -- make that many names, since she had quite a few aliases -- by talking restaurants, suppliers and a whole lot of other folks out of their money. In 1995 she was finally punished for repeated felony theft and sentenced to thirty years in prison for stealing $110,000 from then-73-year-old Mary Davis ("Would You Buy a Used Restaurant From This Woman?," February 15, 1995).
It's not easy figuring out how, exactly, she was released this early, since even with good behavior she shouldn't have been eligible for parole for another ten years, but 65-year-old Chiffon swears it's because there was never a legitimate case against her. (And even though she was sentenced to a hefty thirty years because it was her third conviction for a federal offense, Chiffon also swears that the earlier charges were inflated, too.) "Don't get me wrong," she says in her soft French accent from a friend's home in Denver. "I'm no angel. I've done many things wrong in my life, but I haven't done as many bad things as people say."
Although Chiffon started her sentence in Cañon City, she was moved to the Denver Women's Correctional Facility a few years ago. After her release, she decided to stay in Denver because, she says, "I have my friends here, and they know I didn't do anything wrong."
Even so, she swears she's done with the Denver dining scene. "I need to get my music out there, which is what I should have done in the first place instead of messing around with restaurants," explains Chiffon, who definitely knows how to tickle the ivories. But in a letter she sent two weeks ago to local PR gadfly Randy Wren, who stayed in touch with Chiffon during her time in the joint, she asks, "Have you been able to get any info on the restaurant in Avon???"
Wren says Chiffon told him she was going to work in the kitchen at Papillon, which comes as news to owner Radek Cerny. "There's no reason Chiffon should be blackballed, anyway," adds Wren. "She probably shouldn't own a restaurant, but she could still do her magical thing in the kitchen."
Chiffon needs to find magical employment somewhere, because she still owes an undisclosed sum to Davis, from whom Chiffon borrowed money to help pay personal and restaurant bills. She repaid a portion of the money two years ago, after her mother died and she inherited some of the proceeds from the sale of her mother's house on the French Riviera, but there's yet more reimbursement required. "So once I've paid that money, and considering that I've given six years of my life for this crime, will my debts then all be paid?" Chiffon asks.
Not quite. Rick Gottdenker and Marilyn Richter lost $50,000 running The International, a restaurant at 2637 West 26th Avenue that they took over from Chiffon -- and they also loaned her $18,500, of which they've never seen a dime repaid. When Chiffon was sentenced, Gottdenker told the court: "Even though I know we'll never see any of our money, I'm glad that bitch got what she deserved." Now he says he's tried to put it all behind him: "I just hope no one else has to go through what we did."
(The space that was once The International -- the oddest restaurant I've eaten in during my seven years of reviewing for Westword -- began its eatery career as the original home of La Loma, which is now located at 2527 West 26th Avenue. After many, many interim tenants -- including the late, lamented Bali Island -- today it's occupied by La Fabula ["Say What?," June 15], whose kitchen is uneven but still a marked improvement over Chiffon's era.)
Despite her protestations of almost-innocence, Chiffon says she isn't bitter about being sent to jail. "I did what I had to do," she adds. "I spent my time there practicing my music, playing the piano. I had a keyboard in my room. My CD is going to be available on the Internet soon, and I've made a music box of one of my songs. If I can make millions with my music, I'll be okay."
The hard cell: Sentence me to solitary, as long as I can eat a big bowl of pho from Saigon Bowl, at 333 South Federal Boulevard. Although information says the eatery's phone is disconnected (The Bite, November 2) and offers no alternative listing, Saigon Bowl is still open for business. So save this number, the hardest to find in town: 303-935-2427. -- Kyle Wagner
November 16: Beaujolais Nouveau dinner at 6 p.m.; six-course meal and all the Beaujolais you can drink for $55 per person; reservations required. The Savoy, 535 Third Street, Berthoud, 970-532-4095.
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November 17: Wine tasting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. featuring wines from all regions of the United States. Benefit for the scholarship fund of the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food; $35 for members and $45 for non-members. Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th St., for tickets or information call AIWF at 303-333-2378.
November 17: Gallagher's Gala benefit for Make-a-Wish Foundation, 6 to 10:30 p.m., sponsored by Broncos Ray Crockett and Harral Hasselbach and their wives, with silent auction and guest appearances by other Denver sports figures. Tickets are $100 per person and include a steak and seafood dinner. Gallagher's Steak House, 1480 Arapahoe St., 303-825-6555.
November 23: Fifteenth annual free Thanksgiving Day feast at Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe; menu includes shredded turkey, green chile, rice, beans, stuffing and dessert. The restaurant is also collecting non-perishable foods, toys and school supplies to hand out to the needy; donations should be dropped off at the restaurant by November 22. Rosa Linda's Mexican Café, 2005 W. 33rd Ave., 303-455-0608.
November 30: Luncheon featuring former New York Times food critic and cookbook author Mimi Sheraton, who will discuss her recent book, The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World; $10 per person. Mizel Arts Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360.