Back in business: Sean Kelly

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Rumors were rampant that the recently vacated North Star Brewery space at 3200 Tejon Street had already been snapped up by Joe Vostrejs, Jeff Hermanson and Rod Wagner -- the Larimer Square gang, in part, and the crew most recently behind the resurrection of Billy's Inn, at 4403 Lowell Boulevard. So late last week, I put in a call to Vostrejs, who was more than a little surprised to hear from me.

"Man, the rumor mill must be going full-tilt," he said, stammering a little. "That's not supposed to be out there yet..."

But because it was out there (and because Vostrejs is a gentleman when it comes to these things), he told me that the rumor is true: He and his partners had picked up not just the brewpub, but the entire building. "We have the building under contract and are doing our due diligence," he explained. This acquisition will get them some retail space and three apartments in addition to North Star. And though no tenant for the restaurant space has yet been identified, Vostrejs knows it's just a matter of time.

"Hey," he said. "Maybe once you put it out there, my phone will start to ring."

Consider it done.

I wrote that blog about Vostrejs and company four months ago, then promptly forgot about it. In fact, I didn't remember that Vostrejs had bought the North Star space until my editor told me that there's a sign in the window with a February 23 liquor-license date. And that wasn't the only news in that sign. It also included a new name among those involved: Sean Kelly.

Kelly has been out of the loop for a couple of years, more or less since he closed down his beloved Somethin' Else, the restaurant he'd opened at 1313 East Sixth Avenue as a replacement for Clair de Lune, where Kelly's standing in the photo at the top of this blog. (The space is now occupied by Fruition.) Most recently, he'd been doing jungle time as an executive chef for Mark Berzins' Little Pub Companyrevamping the board at the British Bulldog after Little Pub bought it and running ops at The Pioneer, the joint that Little Pub opened this fall by the University of Denver.

But Kelly had been without a house of his own for some time.

Until now.

I called Vostrejs this afternoon to talk about the new name that had surfaced at his new joint. The first words out of my mouth: "Sean Kelly, man. How'd you pull that off?"

"You did," Vostrejs told me.


"You did. Remember that thing you wrote about the North Star space?  I told you that maybe if you wrote something, someone might call. And you wrote something like, 'Consider it done.' That's how it happened."

Apparently, Kelly was catching up on his reading (or something), saw the piece I'd written (or something), and picked up the phone. The rest was pretty much just business. Lots and lots of business.

Kelly finished his work with Little Pub on December 1, having done two years with Berzins and parting ways amicably. His reasons for moving on? In a situation like that, when you're overseeing so many different operations and so many different kitchens, "you never walk away feeling like you've accomplished anything," Kelly told me. "There were no hard feelings or anything. It was just time for me to push on."

He gave pretty much the same story as Vostrejs had about how the deal had come together.  "It's all about you, man," he said, laughing, explaining how he'd seen the piece about the purchase of the old North Star space and made the call because "half of my friends were doing business with these guys."

Which isn't really much of an exaggeration. Frank Bonanno, Troy Guard, Jennifer Jazinski -- there are a lot of big names who've thrown in their lot with the gang behind Larimer Square. And most of them have done very well.

Still, this new place (which does not yet have a name) is a long way off from doing much of anything. Though Vostrejs and Kelly have been having (rather cerebral) conversations and scheming for the past couple months -- talking, mostly, about "what it is we want to do," according to Vostrejs, "and does it match?" --  the real work at 3200 Tejon started this week.

They've just gotten going on the demo, just started talking seriously about the cuisine, haven't yet chosen a crew. Kelly told me he's hoping for an opening sometime around April, but nothing is set in stone. He'll definitely have help on the line, though; no more one-man, Kurtz-in-the-jungle galleys. And the food will definitely be American food, bar food, gastropub-style food without being made in a gastropub. 

"It's not gonna be frou-frou," Vostrejs told me, adding that while some of the stuff in Larimer Square is rather high-tone, "the stuff that I do in the neighborhood...these are honest, neighborhood places. It's not about breaking new ground with cuisine."

Kelly seconded this, explaining how this as-yet-unnamed bar and restaurant is really going to be a proper neighborhood joint -- lunch and dinner seven days a week, open late and with an active, revenue-generating bar (something that Kelly has never had at any of his restaurants).

"This is the kind of place where, if you want to come in with the kids at five o'clock, that's fine. If you want to come in at nine with some friends for a drink, that's fine. If you want to just sit and have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper, that's fine, too," Vostrejs said, before going off on a jag about how he and a friend had recently been refused a table at a restaurant in the 'hood because they were just there for a glass of wine. Not wanting to stand at the bar, Vostrejs had insisted on a table and was eventually, grudgingly, led back to one. 

"And I was like, don't do me any favors, you know?" he said, adding that he never wanted to run the kind of restaurant where the difference between success and failure is the difference between a couple of guys ordering dinner or just ordering glasses of wine. 

"Look," he concluded, "we're not in business for tonight, we're in business forever." He said it as though he and Kelly already had the new place up and running, like it was already as real as it was ever going to be.

And for his part, Kelly wholeheartedly agreed. -- Jason Sheehan


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