A day after the owners of Avanti Food & Beverage announced that they had signed Texas chef Paul Qui and his company, Aqui Hospitality, to add an outpost of Qui's Austin street-food concept, East Side King, to the LoHi food hall, the Avanti team has backed out of the deal.
In 2016, Qui had been charged with assaulting his then-girlfriend at his apartment, but the charges against him were dismissed in March 2018 after the woman declined to participate in the case shortly before it was set to go to trial. The ramifications continue, however.
Avanti co-founder Patrick O'Neill is currently out of the country, but he released this statement in an email late March 26:
We apologize to our guests, our tenants, and our team for misjudging the severity of the situation surrounding Chef Qui. At Avanti we pride ourselves on offering a safe, all welcoming environment. We want our actions to speak louder than words and therefore have cut all ties with Aqui Hospitality and East Side King. Our priority is to listen to our community and continue to support Denver’s culinary scene and aspiring restaurateurs.
We had talked to Qui just hours before O'Neill released his statement. During the interview, the chef had declined to discuss anything other than his food and restaurants, noting that he was honored to come to Denver and was excited to start cooking here. At the time, there was no indication that the deal was in jeopardy; he also mentioned that the counter-service operation at Avanti was only the first part of his plan to build brick-and-mortar versions of East Side King and his other restaurant, Thai Kun, in Denver.
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The name Paul Qui will be familiar to fans of Top Chef; Qui won season nine in 2012, and he also won a James Beard Award that year for Best Chef: Southwest while at Uchiko, a spinoff of Tyson Cole's Austin eatery Uchi. But since his 2016 arrest, Qui closed a number of restaurants in Houston, Austin and Dallas, and there's been considerable social-media debate over whether diners should continue to support Qui's eateries. That question was already being raised in Denver.
Qui and his company, Aqui Hospitality, also released a statement following Avanti's decision:
The East Side King team is extremely disappointed in Avanti's decision to pull out of our agreement. Throughout the process, Chef Paul and the team have been forthcoming, collaborative and working in good faith towards a common goal. We still believe Denver is a wonderful community that is diverse, open minded and plan on bringing the concept to the city. The support we have received is greatly appreciated and look forward to being here in the near future.
East Side King had been scheduled to open in just a few weeks in place of American Grind, which is moving into a permanent location in West Washington Park this spring.