The text from Mandi Clement read, "Please call me when you get a moment. Fairly urgent."
Thirty minutes later, I was at Roam, the Uptown restaurant that Daniel Kuhlman owns with his wife, Kristel -- the same restaurant that originally opened as Wild Catch, an upscale sustainable seafood den that went underwater after opening exec chef Justin Brunson sailed out the door, his staff right there behind him.
And today, Kuhlman abruptly shuttered Roam -- and how it all went down is just bizarre.
Several of the former staff, including exec chef Tony Clement, who came on board when Wild Catch reopened as Roam, his wife and front-of-the-house manager, Mandi, two servers and a dishwasher were next door at Las Margaritas when I showed up. They gathered in front of Roam, I took a photograph and, suddenly, Kuhlman flung open the front door, started shoving people out of the way, including me, and then attempted to grab my camera, nearly knocking me to the pavement in the process. After he and Tony exchanged words (and Daniel wagged his finger in Tony's face), Tony called the police.
Mandi and Tony had already come face-to-face with Denver's finest once today, after Daniel, who changed the locks almost immediately, felt the need to have the couple escorted off the premises. "Apparently, he was afraid we were going to steal his stuff, so he called the police," says Tony.
Roam is closed on Tuesday, but Tony had stopped by to water the tomato plants he had planned to move to the rooftop garden once the weather turned warm. "I was walking down the stairs to water the plants, and ran into Kristel, who said, 'Hey, how are you?' And when I got downstairs, everything in dry storage was packed up," says Tony. "I came back up the stairs and asked her if they were throwing in the towel, and she said they were."
And then, according to Tony, Kristel claimed that Daniel intended to let them know tomorrow, by phone, that Roam had shuttered. "Daniel is the most deceitful, conniving, and spineless person I know," claims Mandi. "He's incapable of telling the truth."
To back up her claim, she and Tony recounted several incidents that left them both doubting Daniel's integrity -- doubts that echoed Brunson's. "We all had a meeting last Thursday to discuss the direction we were heading, and we asked Daniel point-blank if he was going to throw in the towel or keep going, and he told us that he needed to talk to Kristel, and that he'd let us know at the beginning of the week," recounts Mandi, who adds that she and Tony pleaded with him to let them know if he was planning to close. "We asked him to please be courteous enough to let us know if he was done so that we could give our staff two weeks notice, and he looked us straight in the eye and said, of course."
In addition, says Tony, Daniel played the victim: "He said that if Roam closed, the loss would be all his and that he'd have to declare bankruptcy."
But, claims Mandi, Daniel left out a crucial fact during their conversation -- namely that he'd already sold the restaurant. "Employees next door at Las Margaritas told us that the papers were signed on their patio...and that happened before we all sat down and talked," she maintains.
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Tori Begg, a server at Roam, also divulges that Daniel would hold their credit-card tips...for a week at a time. "He would only give us our credit cards tip once a week," she says. "No one does that." And when Daniel would come in for dinner -- which was comped -- he rarely tipped the staff, she adds: "He'd occasionally leave $5, but for the most part, he never tipped us, which is incredulous."
Mandi admits that she and Tony may have entered into a partnership with Daniel too blindly but, she says, they wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. "We might have come into this a bit naively, but we had hoped that he'd treat us the way that he wanted to be treated, and that wasn't the case," she says. "Other than Daniel, Roam was great. Business was getting a lot better, we had tons of regulars, our numbers were right where they should be, and the staff, the best I've ever worked with, were all really loyal to each other. But Daniel has no problem screwing people over."
Fourteen people are now out of work, all of whom are looking for jobs. Tony and Mandi plan to spend more time on their catering company, which was their focus before they took the jobs at Roam. But first, they want to get paid. "Daniel underpaid us and still owes us $2,044.93," says Mandi, adding that he promised they'd receive it within ten days. "We'll see if he lives up to his promise."