Aoba won't be getting into the swim of the Denver dining scene as soon as it had hoped. The new sushi joint going into 1520 Blake Street -- the former home of Organixx -- had hoped to open this month. But today, the Aoba construction project was put on hold for violating Denver's zoning code.
"It's not so positive today," says sushi chef Mike Nakanishi.
Owner Ken Zheng found a notice from the inspections division of the Denver Community Planning and Development office on the storefront window this morning, indicating that Aoba's construction design violates a Denver zoning policy: modifying the exterior of the building without prior approval.
The notice from Steve Oliver, the project coordinator in charge of the Lower Downtown Historic District, reads: "Storefront stop. Work on storefront pending. Landmark review."
Andrea Burns, communications director for Denver's Community Planning and Development office, says the tenants never got permission for construction of the exterior of the building: "The particular building is one we say contributes to the landmark nature of the district. They needed to request landmark approval for modification to the exterior of the building. In their initial paperwork they had said they were doing interior work and its apparent they are doing exterior work."
Replacing the storefront material should be a simple fix, Nakanishi says, and he expects Aoba to open "next month, hopefully."
Burns says the tenants will have to meet with the downtown design review board which meets once per month and re-evaluates modifications in the downtown landmark district. The next meeting is April 6, but Burns says she's not sure if Aoba's case will be on the April 6 schedule for review. Luckily, she says, "no fines or fees are involved. I think we're looking at more just the work itself: Do we have to modify it? What changes will they have to make to the exterior?"
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In the mean time, the white booths and dim lights of the restaurant's unfinished interior beckons an exciting future for denver sushi-lovers.
When -- and if -- the restaurant opens, Nakanishi, who is originally from Japan, says he'll be serving traditional Japanese sushi at a "decent price." Along with Japanese-imported saki, "good-quality, always fresh" seafood, an appealing wine selection, and smaller dishes.
"People can enjoy saki and nice food," he explains. "If customers feel like they want have nice red or white wine, of course we'll have a nice selection that will pair really well with appetizers."