The Old Aunt
Michael Degenhart left Tante Louise (4900 East Colfax Avenue) in capable hands -- from the moment he told owner Corky Douglass that he was thinking about doing his own thing, Degenhart began training the sous chef, Duy Van Pham, to replace him. "We were in an unusual situation in that I was aware of what Michael wanted to do right from the start," says Douglass, who's been at the helm of Tante Louise now for close to three decades. "We'd been talking -- oh, I'd say about three years ago is when Michael brought it up -- and we've been working on making sure it would be a smooth transition."
In fact, the transition has been so smooth that some regulars weren't even aware of the change. I asked two Tante aficionados who eat there on a weekly basis if they'd noticed anything different; neither had a clue that someone new was in charge of the kitchen. While Pham may be young -- he's only 25 -- he's been cooking since he was nineteen and had worked as sous chef in a number of Denver restaurants, including Rialto Cafe, Chives American Bistro, the Normandy and Sushi Den, before joining Tante Louise. And then there's Douglass himself, an old hand at pouring on the charm.
While Degenhart's now in charge of his very own kitchen at Rue Cler (see review this week), he's not without help. Half of the dessert offerings are made by Gerald Shorey, who owns Devil's Food, at 1024 South Gaylord Street. I stopped by hoping to sample more of Shorey's work, but his place is closed through this week while he's on vacation. The tiny bakery looks very cute, though, and judging from what's served at Rue Cler, the goodies that come out of it are very good indeed.
All the news that fits: In the February 3 Mouthing Off, I noted that regulars were grumbling about the Newsstand Cafe (630 East Sixth Avenue). Although the previous owner was renowned for her gruff attitude, people have been complaining that things haven't improved much under the new owners (even though they advertise their "new attitude" on the side of the building). And those same regulars were also worried that the Newsstand was about to contradict its own name by substantially reducing the number of publications it offers.
J. Stephen Finster, the president of Finster Bros., which now owns the coffeehouse, wrote a very nice letter to explain the situation. Of the many magazines carried inside the shop, he says, "they were, in essence, very expensive decorations which were preventing us from increasing our seating capacity to meet the needs of our customers." When he bought the place, he explains, he tried to reverse some of former owner Trudie Ross's rules -- which were very customer-unfriendly -- such as having a "table time" that kept people from lingering more than a few minutes beyond their last sip of coffee and forcing people to purchase the magazines before they read them. That last switch, though, almost did the place in, Finster says, because it meant no one bought the magazines, and "we had a lot of revenue tied up in the magazine inventory."
When he took over a year ago, he adds, "revenue trends for the last five years of operation constituted a negative 45-degree slope, and the little neighborhood cafe was headed for its demise." Although the place still isn't supporting itself -- revenue from Finster Bros. Bagel Bakery (5709 East Colfax Avenue) is helping to prop it up -- dropping some magazines, moving the newspapers outside and adding seats for people who want to eat will help.
And as for that name, it will disappear along with the publications. Within the next few weeks, the sign should read Finster Bros. 6th Avenue Cafe. And Finster promises that something else will disappear, too: the bad attitude. "I'm embarrassed by the deportment of my staff at the Sixth Avenue store," he admits.
Critic's choice: Speaking of newspapers, Bill St. John had barely settled in as the Denver Post's new food editor/restaurant reviewer when Thom Wise resigned from St. John's old job at the Rocky Mountain News. St. John, who'd taken some much-needed R&R after he parted ways with 5280 and Microsoft's Denver Sidewalk closed (he'd left the News for the online reviewer's gig, which he'd supplemented with the magazine job), brings years of experience and lively writing to the Post. The city hasn't seen food writing this fun since John Kessler (my predecessor at Westword) left the Post for Atlanta.
Now the only paper in this town that St. John hasn't worked for is Westword, but he's going to have to fight me for the job. And chances are I'd win, because the guy must be exhausted. No sooner was he on board than his co-worker Hsaio-Ching Chou resigned from the paper, and a week later the Post announced it would be eliminating her position altogether. Hmmm. That means St. John has to review restaurants, write the food stories (ostensibly talking up the very chefs he may have to slam later), find copy on the wire to fill the section, do his inimitable wine column and put up with Diane Gould, who has to be cranky, since St. John's hiring relegated her to a secondary reviewing position until her contract ends.
Wise is leaving the newspaper world in order to cause some trouble in a variety of foreign countries for a while (and eat lots of good food). He's exiting the paper on decent terms, despite that little matter over the gossip gig, which the News tried to get Wise and James Meadow to share. When they turned down the deal, the News hired Penny Parker away from the Post. Hmmm again. Wonder how Meadow would be at reviewing restaurants? Too bad he's a vegetarian in a cowtown.
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