Not even six years in the joint could keep Ruth Chiffon von Seeburg-Schausten Prager from returning to the restaurant business, even though she did her time because the evidence against her involved years of bad money deals for eateries she either worked in or ran ("Would You Buy a Used Restaurant From This Woman?," February 15, 1995).
Prager -- better known in these parts simply as "Chiffon" -- was finally convicted in 1995 of Class 3 felony theft from an at-risk adult because she had bilked 73-year-old Mary Davis out of $110,000, supposedly for the old restaurant Lautrec's. But that was just the icing on the case: The prosecution had subpoenaed several restaurant-industry types to testify against her, including Rick Gottdenker and Marilyn Richter, who lost $18,500 to Chiffon when they ran the International, on West 26th Avenue. But they, along with dozens of others who'd wanted to tell tales of bad checks and money borrowed and never repaid, didn't have the chance to talk, because Chiffon pleaded guilty. Under Colorado's habitual-offender law, Chiffon's sentence was thirty years, but she got out early for good behavior. However, she claims it was because "they never really had a case against me."
When Chiffon was released from the Denver Women's Correctional Facility late last year, she swore she had no interest in Denver's 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," she said then. But now the 65-year-old, who claims to have cooked all over the world and trained as a classical pianist, is co-owner of Angie's 25th Avenue Cafe, at 25th and Sheridan Boulevard. Her partner is Angie Feighert, who has owned Angie's Place, a Lakewood coffeehouse, for the past four years.
"Chiffon came in to play the piano, a baby grand, that I have here," Feighert says. "We struck up a friendship, and then we started talking about doing a place together." Although she says she knows Chiffon's history, Feighert, the vice president for the Mariah Youth Program, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth, says she wants to give Chiffon the benefit of the doubt. "I know all about it," Feighert says. "You have to give people a chance."
That's all well and good, except that the fifty-seat restaurant sounds eerily similar to the International: It has a high-end menu -- bouillabaisse, paella and chauteaubriand for two are some of the offerings -- in a low-scale space in a neighborhood whose most popular eatery, the Edgewater Inn, is packed because of its good pizza, cheap suds and casual atmosphere. Chiffon's friend, Denver gadabout Randy Wren, says it's an "old-fashioned greasy spoon"; he hopes people will support it because of its connection to Mariah. "I really think you're seeing a whole new Chiffon," he says. "I think her time in jail taught her that she has to help people -- and what better way than through her cooking and her music?"
"We're serving several different countries," says Chiffon. "Spain, Italy, North Africa, France, Indian and, of course, American." In addition, she says she plans to do fundraisers for Feighert's organization, starting with one on November 9 at the Temple Buell Theatre and continuing with concerts at both restaurants. "I have a new CD out," she adds. "It's all pop music. It's fantastic. It's the best one I've done yet."
Chiffon is also enthusiastic about Feighert, who she says does "incredible things for people that's absolutely unbelievable, like offering a place for musicians to play when no one else will." She also points out that she knows it is "amazing" that Feighert is so willing to take her on as a partner. "You can write what you want about me," Chiffon says, "but I don't want you to hurt Angie's business. She's a good person, and she deserves not to be hurt by anyone."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves