Gene Tang isn't a flashy, self-promoting restaurateur. But he's gained a loyal following at 1515 Restaurant for his hospitable spirit, welcoming demeanor and vast knowledge of wine. After more than twenty years serving downtown Denver, Tang will close 1515 on Friday, May 31.
The chef/owner of the two-story eatery at 1515 Market Street says that he and his wife, Paula, have been working harder than ever over the past few years to keep his restaurant relevant in a changing Denver market. The hard work has earned Tang plenty of recognition, including a Rising Star award from Wine Spectator last year and induction into the Colorado Restaurant Association's Food Service Hall of Fame in 2017. In 2016, the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour came to 1515 for a wine-filled dinner with multiple guest chefs.
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But Tang says he's ready to hang up the chef's whites and retire so that he can spend more time with his grandchildren, participate in his community and even drink a little wine — since he and his wife will have a wine cellar with 725 labels to choose from.
The restaurateur graduated from the University of Denver's hospitality management program in 1971 and then went on to earn an MBA from the same university while launching his restaurant career at Leo's Place under famed restaurateur Leo Goto. Tang and his wife operated Cafe Potpourri from 1985 to 1996 before opening 1515 Restaurant in 1997, bringing experimental, high-end cuisine back to Market Street. (Back in the early '80s, 1515's location was home to the ground-breaking Cafe Giovanni.)
Regulars at 1515 understand Tang's commitment to "making people happy through good food and drink," and Tang has always been generous in sharing his knowledge and experience. "Seeing Denver turn into such an amazing restaurant town makes me proud to have been a part of it," he wrote in an email message. "I am thankful for my professors and mentors, everyone in the business who work for the love of good food and wine, and most especially our regular customers who became great friends. I raise a glass of wine to your accomplishment!"
In typical understated fashion, Tang doesn't plan on a big party at the restaurant to mark his retirement or the closing; he's says he prefers to instead focus on his customers and give them the same experience they've come to love over the years. 1515 will be open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday through the end of May. Call 303-571-0011 to book a table.