The cozy quarters of Z Cuisine have been empty ever since chef/owner Patrick Dupays packed up his knives and closed up shop in August 2016. The merry clamor of guests at the French eatery has been missed in the neighborhood, and longtime fans have considered the possibility of a new tenant with trepidation. But soon the door will swing open again: Cart-Driver, an operation accustomed to throwing nightly culinary parties in a tiny space, will take over the address at 2239 West 30th Avenue.
Run by Andy Niemeyer, Mark Licata and Andrew Birkholz out of a shipping-container complex in RiNo, Cart-Driver has been evangelizing rustic Italian street fare since opening nearly four years ago. Birkholz says they had been looking for the right location for expansion for a long time before deciding on the Z Cuisine address. "We didn't want to go big, but the location, the size and the character of the space all felt right," he says.
And while "big" isn't exactly the adjective that springs to mind when recalling shoulder-to-shoulder dinners at Dupays's restaurant, Birkholz explains that there's plenty of room for a more comfortable dining room. The address consists of three adjoining rooms with a kitchen in the back that spans all three; Z Cuisine used the left-hand space for its bar and the right-hand space for its dining room, with a central room that was used as an on-again/off-again art gallery and event space. Cart-Driver will take out the walls separating the three rooms to make one continuous dining room and bar.
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Birkholz and Niemeyer aren't making any promises on an opening date. "We're at the mercy of city permitting," Niemeyer points out. But they think "sometime before the end of 2018" is reasonable.
The new Cart-Driver will take an approach to food and drink similar to that at the original, with wood-fired pizza, oysters and small plates from head chef Andrew Van Stee, who has been with the company since the beginning. With extra room, the wine program will be expanded, but otherwise this Cart-Driver will maintain its casual vibe and service style.
After Z Cuisine closed, there was a brief plan to reopen the restaurant under new ownership. Jamille Cucci (sister of Edible Beats founder Justin Cucci) and Dominique Falkner, chef/restaurateurs from Key West, initially purchased the spot but never followed up on reopening, instead selling to the Cart-Driver group earlier this year.
Both Z Cuisine and Cart-Driver have managed to prove that small can be big. Considering the number of out-of-state operators moving in on Denver neighborhoods, this switch feels right for Highland.