Will the third time be the charm for the vacant restaurant space at 2230 Oneida Street in Park Hill? Chef/restaurateur Jon Robbins, owner of nearby Bistro Barbès, hopes so. He and business partners Megan Silvertooth and Noel Martin are looking to open Red Sauce, a neighborhood Italian eatery, where Table Top and Desmond Bar & Grill have come and gone over the past three years.
Robbins says he was initially interested in the space after Table Top closed in 2015, but Desmond moved in under the leadership of chef Sean Kelly. Kelly then reached out to Robbins when he decided to close Desmond in July to give him first dibs on the space.
While Bistro Barbès channels French cuisine filtered through the North African neighborhoods Robbins experienced while living and working as a chef in Paris, Red Sauce will — unsurprisingly, given the name — focus on Italian-American fare, specifically akin to the traditional pasta joints of New York and New Jersey. The team is aiming for a November 5 opening.
"We're definitely not going to be doing anything new," Robbins explains of the menu. "And we're unapologetically American."
In fact, even the name is as simple and approachable as possible. "We kept calling it 'the red sauce restaurant' or just 'red sauce' while we were planning it, and I didn't want anything unpronounceable, so the name just stuck," the chef notes.
And while the menu won't be anything new to East Coasters familiar with family-run neighborhood joints, Robbins is planning on going deep into the canon for a few surprises for Denver, like spiedini alla Romana (skewered mozzarella and anchovy sandwiches) and Brooklyn blackout cake.
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Another surprise for Park Hill will be the menu prices. "The portions are going to be big and are meant to be taken home," the chef says. "Food has really gotten expensive in this town, and we're trying to go in the opposite direction." So instead of delicate handmade pastas that can solidify into a gluey mess when served in family-sized portions, Red Sauce will rely on hard pastas that hold up to Italian-American sauces and oven-baked dishes.
Robbins is no stranger to claiming unlikely restaurant spaces and making them work. Bistro Barbès has found success for the past three years at 5021 East 28th Avenue, where Satchel's and Pary’s on 28th previously served the neighborhood. "I'm good at managing restaurants, but I'm not good at managing construction," he says of his decision to focus on existing locations for expansion.
He also points out the rising cost of rent and construction in Denver as reasons to stay in the Park Hill neighborhood, where he grew up and now lives. He is also still looking for a home for Souk Shawarma, his sandwich shop that was one of the first incubator concepts at Avanti Food & Beverage (which signs short-term leases to allow chefs to test ideas before moving on), but but the cost of retail space has delayed a decision on the location.
In addition to Souk Shawarma, which closed after its lease at Avanti expired, and Bistro Barbès, Robbins also operates Temper Chocolates and Confections at the Denver Central Market. Previously he worked at Mizuna for four years before leaving his post as chef de cuisine there in 2013.