It's been an...interesting year for Ambria, the American-Mediterranean restaurant that managing partner Steve Halliday opened on the 16th Street Mall in November 2011. Halliday, who revamped the space, a former Ling & Louie's where he was also a partner, brought in a big-name chef in Jeremy Kittelson (he's now cooking at Root Down), whom he later terminated, and struggled, as do many restaurateurs, to find a niche on the 16th Street Mall, whose restaurant landscape is full of chains, including the Cheesecake Factory, which resides directly next to Ambria.
And it's because of national chains like the Cheesecake Factory, which reportedly rakes in $13 million a year, per store, that Halliday began searching for a new space to sprout Ambria, which will close Saturday night following dinner service.
See also: - Steve Halliday, managing partner of Ambria, weighs in on firing chef Jeremy Kittelson - Jeremy Kittelson, former chef of Ambria, sprouts at Root Down...with a chance to grow - Ambria exec chef Jeremy Kittelson gets fired...at the Cheesecake Factory - Foodography: A sneak peek at Ambria, opening Wednesday on the 16th Street Mall
"Our lease is up this month, but more than anything else, it just doesn't make sense for us to be on the 16th Street Mall, because there are so many tourists, and while they all know what the Cheesecake Factory is, they're not locals, so they don't know who we are," says Halliday, who confides that he's been looking for four months for a new, smaller space to reopen Ambria -- and he was close, very close to inking a deal.
"I'm scrambling right now," he tells me. "I'd been working hard on a deal for two months on a downtown space, and we had a verbal agreement, but for whatever reason, the landlord balked and I got screwed in the deal, which is frustrating for both me and my employees," he adds, stressing that his staff, which includes exec chef Gabe Balenzuela, will have the option to follow. "Not everyone will come to the new restaurant -- wherever that is -- but we'll do everything we can to keep them employed."
And when Ambria emerges elsewhere, it'll be essentially the same, says Halliday, save for the size. "We'll still be an American restaurant with Mediterranean inspirations, but I want a smaller restaurant, something around 4,000 square feet that's easier to manage and feels more intimate, and while the deal I lost was what I wanted, I'm talking to a few more brokers about other spaces that fit within the guidelines of what I'm looking for," he adds, noting that one of those spaces is also downtown -- but not on the mall. "I don't want a buildout," he continues. "I want a restaurant that's in good shape, one that I may have to clean and tweak, but that's ready to go."
And that's because Halliday doesn't want to spend the next several months waiting to reopen. "I want to relocate as soon as possible and open sooner rather than later."
He's got some meetings set up this weekend, and on Monday, he'll auction off the majority of Ambria's inventory. "It's top-of-the line stuff," he points out, "and since I want a smaller restaurant that's hopefully got everything in place, it doesn't make sense to put it all in storage, so we'll have an online auction on Monday, and people can come in and kick the tires, so to speak, before they buy."
In the meantime, Halliday is still trying to figure out why the deal he'd come to believe was a "slam dunk" fell by the wayside. "I wish I knew what happened," he muses. "Everything except for the small stuff was done, and then suddenly, I was out. Who knows what happened? I just know that we'll rebound."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.