Cafe Society

Denver's most notable restaurant couple, Leigh Sullivan and Troy Guard, split -- and a mass exodus from TAG ensues

It was a Las Vegas, tunnel-of-love, drive-thru wedding. Leigh Sullivan and Troy Guard, the chef/owner of TAG and TAG| RAW BAR, met just three months before they took off for Las Vegas and tied the knot in 2004 in the back seat of a cab at Sin City's Little White Chapel.

While both were a little tipsy when they said their "I dos," they agreed to stay together through thick and thin. And to anyone on the outside looking in, their union blossomed into a marriage that made everyone around them want what they had.

In the seven years they've been together, Troy and Leigh opened TAG, followed by TAG | RAW BAR; they became operating partners of Madison Street; Leigh created the Denver Five, a coalition of some of the city's most talented chefs, including Troy, who showcase Denver's culinary prowess at the James Beard House; they had a baby, Grace, who's just two, to join Leigh's daughter Mackenzie; and they appeared to be crazy in love.

But late Monday afternoon, Troy walked out the door, leaving Leigh stupefied. On Tuesday, she learned that he was seeing someone else. "Everyone thought that we had it all, including me, but apparently having it all wasn't enough for Troy," Leigh says. "Having a beautiful family, successful businesses, and a loyal wife who loved her husband with every fiber of her being just wasn't enough."

Just days after Troy shut the door behind him, Leigh filed for divorce and washed her hands completely of TAG, TAG | RAW BAR and Madison Street. Several major players and key management staffers at TAG followed suit -- and yesterday, there was a mass exodus so extreme that Troy had to close TAG | RAW BAR in order to cover positions at TAG.

"There was a major walkout," says Brian Melton, who had been the primary face of TAG's bar and cocktail program since the Larimer Square restaurant opened two years ago. "When I found out that Leigh was no longer going to be a part of this restaurant, I knew I didn't want to be a part of it, either."

According to Melton, James Lee, TAG's recently hired beverage manager, along with Jenson Cummings, TAG's chef de cuisine; general manager Jeff Parr and nearly a dozen other TAG employees either headed straight for the exit or submitted their two-week notice.

"It was sort of this unspoken allegiance on our part that we no longer wanted to be a part of this," says Melton. "Over the two years we worked together, all of us had become a family, and Leigh is like my big sister -- she's my girl -- and I couldn't stand to see what was happening to her. And while I've put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into this place, I couldn't stand idle, and I'm leaving with my head held high."

Everyone, including Leigh, will survive, he says, but adds, "My heart goes out to Grace, their little girl. That's the biggest travesty in all of this. She doesn't deserve this."

For his part, Troy -- a natural talker -- is keeping uncharacteristically mum. "I don't feel I need to spill my beans about Leigh and me and the restaurant," he says. "I'm concentrating on being a dad to my daughters, Grace and Mackenzie, and taking care of TAG restaurants and my employees." And TAG | RAW BAR, he promises, will reopen tonight.

Leigh, meanwhile, is marching onward. "I'm looking at this as an opportunity to pull myself up, dust myself off and show my girls what their mother is made of -- that when the going gets tough, the tough get going," she says. As for her relationship with the restaurants, Leigh tells me that when she and Troy inked the deals, only his name was on all the documents. "All of the liability is his," she notes.

Still, they share a long history in Denver's restaurant scene, and this split is going to shake up that scene for some time.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson