Nearly four months after abruptly closing all 260 of its restaurants and breweries nationwide and laying off 18,000 people, the bankrupt Craftworks group — parent company to the Rock Bottom, Old Chicago and ChopHouse chains, among others — has been sold to a new investment firm, which is slowly reopening specific locations, including two prominent downtown Denver spots with long histories.
A Tennessee investment company called SPB Hospitality bought Craftworks out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June, ending the decade-long existence of Craftworks, which was formed in 2010 when longtime Boulder restaurateur Frank Day sold his stake in the three chains he founded in the 1990s.
The closures were caused in part by the nationwide coronavirus lockdowns in March, but also by Craftworks' financial problems, which had begun earlier in the year.
While Colorado will permanently lose some of its SBP restaurants, including the Old Chicago outposts in Denver, Greeley and Longmont, as well as the Rock Bottom on Westminster, the new parent company reopened the original Rock Bottom, at 1001 16th Street, on June 26 for in-house dining. SBP also reopened the Denver ChopHouse, situated in the former Union Pacific Railroad building near Coors Field, on the same day.
The Rock Bottom on the16th Street Mall opened in 1991 — named for its location at the base of the Prudential Building. It was Day's second effort at a brewpub (he opened the Walnut Brewery in Boulder a year earlier) and one of the first microbreweries in Denver, following Wynkoop Brewing.
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The ChopHouse, which is more upscale than Rock Bottom, opened in 1995 in a historic building between Union Station and Coors Field. Both restaurants have their own breweries and brewing staff.
SBP spokesman Josh Kern, who held the same role with Craftworks, didn't respond to an email about the re-openings (he didn't respond to previous emails about Craftworks, either). But in an email to employees, the general manager of the ChopHouse explained some of the difficulties that the restaurant will face. Here's the full message:
"It has been a scary time globally and also for our company. We are sad to see some of our stores close permanently but it is wonderful that we will be back in business at our location.
We have many challenges still ahead of us. We still have construction next door hindering parking, traffic and more. We will not have professional sports, convention traffic, concerts, Denver Center of Performing Arts and hardly any tourism, so we must rely on locals entirely. We do have great marketing support to ensure we get our regulars and local traffic back and to grow as soon as we can. We must abide by city and state mandates which will restrict business levels capping our capacity when we are busy. It will be interesting times ahead!
We have no choice as we migrate these unknown waters to be prepared for anything, and to ensure a business that survives after all of this is over. We need to rethink our staffing levels and what we can all do to make sure we don’t lose money where we go out of business, but rather that we break even and hopefully maybe even make money! It is going to be hard to do, but we know teamwork, positivity and exceptional guest experiences will put us on the path to success.
Management was rehired as of today. We are not bringing all managers back at first and we hope to be able to once business grows. We are starting with a very small team as we do not know what business will be like. We will be hiring our certified trainers first and those that can work multiple departments. We will continue to hire hourly employees as we can afford to do so – it all depends on business volume. We will be hiring in waves and we will be in touch directly if we need you to apply. If you are not interested in coming back for any reason, please reach out to management directly so we are aware. We will also be hiring based on commitment, expertise, attitude, performance and current availability.
We wish we could hire everyone back right away, but the current state of this ongoing pandemic keeps us from being able to do so. Unfortunately there are many of you that we might not be able to bring back, and for that, we apologize now.
We will not be hiring server assistants for quite some time and will rely on servers to bus their own tables. We will hire very limited hosts to start as well as expos. Management is prepared to work kitchen stations and any departments where we are needed until we grow business to afford to staff them accordingly.
We will have all safety procedures in place to ensure our guests and staff feel comfortable being here. We have reopened many stores in our company and most are doing very well. We will be back to regular business before we know it and we hope to see most of you there with us in the end.
We wish you all the absolute best. We hope you all are staying healthy and happy during these turbulent times. We are a strong team, restaurant and country and we will make it out of this even stronger and better than before.
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery is located at 1001 16th Street, and ChopHouse & Brewery Denver is at 1735 19th Street.