John Hickenlooper has been officially out of the restaurant business for more than two years — ever since the trust he'd put his business interests in when he was first elected mayor sold his remaining ownership of seven restaurants for $5.8 million back in 2007. One of those restaurants was the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Hickenlooper's first foray into the business; another was the Wazee Supper Club. And a third was the Cherry Cricket, an institution in Cherry Creek for decades before Hickenlooper successfully campaigned to buy it. The wildly successful Cricket has always been a money machine, and it went into overdrive last year, when a deal with a nearby frame shop allowed the burger joint to not only expand its dining space, but also build an expansive outdoor patio right at Second and Clayton, on one of the priciest parcels of real estate in town.
But the deal didn't just net the Cricket more space; it also got the owners a major grilling in court.
In February 2009, Dreamland Properties — owned by Norm Smith, who'd run the frame shop for years — informed its neighbors/partners in the building cooperative that it had entered into an agreement to sell its property to Cherry Cricket II, a new and wholly owned subsidiary of Wynkoop Holdings, headed by Lee Driscoll. Cherry Creek Floral, Cherry Creek Tailor and Triple Y, the other businesses that had gone in with Dreamland and Wynkoop Holdings to buy the building in which they'd been leasing space, soon filed suit, claiming this violated the covenants, conditions and restrictions of the agreement behind the Clayton Street Condo Association, which stated that the owners all had a right of first refusal if another owner decided to sell or lease his property — unless the buyer was a "related entity." And none of them had been offered a piece of this deal.
According to the three plaintiffs, under the terms of the deal, the "related entity" must be related to the seller. According to the defendants — Dreamland Properties and Cherry Cricket Land II — the buyer could be "related" to any owner in the condo project (as Cherry Cricket II was related to Wynkoop Holdings, for example). As written, the agreement was "ambiguous" enough that after five days of testimony in February — during which the name of John Hickenlooper was often invoked, even though he was out of the deal years before and now occupies an office directly upstairs from Denver District Judge Herbert Stern's courtroom — the judge scheduled another round of testimony for last Friday. That's when attorney C. Chandler Lippitt, who'd helped write the original condo agreement and also represented Cherry Cricket II in the Dreamland deal, returned to the stand, where he was quizzed about that "ambiguous" language. And when that still wasn't enough time to conclude the proceedings, the judge scheduled yet more time in his courtroom on May 6.
The crowds that pack the Cherry Cricket every day show that they appreciate a good grilling. Expect the same in court this week.