The long-held adage that 90 percent of restaurants fail in their first year is a myth (a 2007 study found the number closer to 25 percent), but there's no doubt that the first twelve months are trying for restaurateurs. And the owners of Boulder's Cafe Aion made things particularly challenging,opening in the middle of a recession in an area of town dominated by college-friendly pizza joints and sub shops.
So as they contemplate Cafe Aion's first birthday on April 2, are the owners ready to celebrate?
Those who are still around are; they say they hope to be in the black by their anniversary. Dakota Soifer, the chef, and Jason Hein, the general manager, remain from the initial lineup -- but two of the four original partners have departed. Jake Kirkpatrick, the bar manager who was integral in the shoestring budget build-out, decamped last summer to focus more on bike racing. And Eric Lee, the sous chef, will depart (on good terms) in a week and a half to take a sous chef position at Z Cuisine. Soifer is currently talking with a potential new sous.
Soifer and Hein have also brought on a wine director, Kenny Rowe, and a floor manager, Matthew Kenny. The restaurant has expanded its hours, too. Once just a four-day dinner operation with a Sunday brunch, Cafe Aion is now open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, and it does dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
"We've had to figure out how to do things," says Soifer, who helped run The Kitchen and was head chef for the Meadowlark Farm dinners before opening Cafe Aion. "And we put in extra time. Sometimes it just makes more sense to take an extra half an hour to run down to Whole Foods for a little produce instead of buying in bulk from a supplier."
But Soifer doesn't plan on making any conceptual changes: House-cured meat and shareable plates featuring hyper-local ingredients still rule the menu (though large, shared platters have been added to the mix), and neighborhood dinners, like the recently introduced paella night, focus on family-style meals.
The clientele enjoying those meals has evolved, though. "We're starting to see more students," says Soifer. "But we're mostly getting professors and people in from downtown." That's a general trend on the Hill in Boulder, where many buildings are being remodeled and business is up in full-service restaurants.
Soifer says he's excited about Saba Middle Eastern Eats, the Mediterranean restaurant slated to open nearby this spring, and that he hopes more restaurants continue to raise the bar near the University of Colorado.
But for now, he'll be content raising a glass to profitability in April.
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