It's been almost forty years since Ed Novak opened the Broker Restaurant, at 821 17th Street, which has been serving up complimentary bowls of peel-and-eat shrimp to crowds for generations. The restaurant is still a mainstay for its unique dining room -- it's located in the basement of a former bank, complete with vault -- and downtown location, reflective of an era when prime rib and wedge salads were considered the epitome of fine dining.
And while tastes are shifting, the Broker lives on, something of a living memorial to the culinary roots from which we came, with suited business types drinking happy-hour highballs and cabernet in the dark-wooded, steakhouse digs.
That memorial has a new keeper, though: Novak has passed the torch. In March of this year, his business partner, Jerry Fritzler, bought both the Broker and its sole surviving sibling restaurant, The Cork House, at 4900 East Colfax Avenue, so Novak could ease into semi-retirement.
Fritzler was a busboy at the Broker when it opened in 1972, rising through the ranks until he purchased 25 percent of the restaurant in 1996. And he was an equal partner with Novak at the Cork House, which opened in 2005 in the former home of Tante Louise. Novak agreed last December to sell him both spots.
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"The restaurant industry is for young people," says Novak. "Jerry was doing most of the work, so I decided to sell him my shares."
For his part, Fritzler is vowing to preserve the history of the spots, even while making some updates. Like the a la carte menu he introduced at the Broker, which gives diners more economical and lighter options, in addition to the traditional four-course dinner for which the restaurant is known.
Thus far, though, the menus still toe the traditional steakhouse line, from the Caesar salad to the cheesecake, and that's unlikely to change.
And that famous shrimp bowl definitely stays.