Denver and Boulder have their share of big-name chef/restaurateurs who have built up the dining scene over the past decade or more, but there are also the people with ideas and money who keep the gears turning behind the scenes. Most Front Range restaurant-goers haven't heard the name Ben Kaplan, but he's had an impact as an investor and partner in some of the area's most lauded names, including Oak at Fourteenth, the Source (and its upcoming neighbor, the Source Hotel), Brider and others. Now Kaplan is spearheading a new Boulder project called Emmerson, which will open at 1600 Pearl Street this summer.
Emmerson will be an all-day restaurant, with breakfast and lunch served across the counter and dinner presented with a full-service staff. To accomplish this, Kaplan has assembled a veteran staff for both the front and back of the house. In the kitchen, he's bringing in two New Yorkers, chefs Michael Gibney and Jeb Breakell, both of whom will be partners in the operation.
Breakell is a pastry chef who will focus on house-baked breads and other pastries; he brings experience from the likes of Per Se, Daniel, 11 Madison Park and Atera in New York. Gibney, who in addition to cooking holds a BFA in painting and an MFA in nonfiction writing, is the author of Sous-Chef: 24 Hours on the Line and has previously worked as executive sous-chef at Tavern on the Green.
The name Emmerson comes from Breakell and Gibney's shared love of the ancient grain emmer as one of the cornerstones of culinary history. Gibney points out that drawing a connection to Ralph Waldo Emerson is also apt, since he wants to "create a thoughtful eating experience for customers."
"We really like the term 'neo-bistro,'" Kaplan explains. "I think it describes us well."
Also on board are general manager Tre Gerbitz, who comes from the Med and Brasserie Ten Ten, and beverage director Ben Foote, who has worked at Blackbelly and Jax Fish House. "I set out to build a culinary team — and I inadvertently built my tribe," Kaplan says of the team.
When Emmerson opens in the former home of Lyfe Kitchen, grains will definitely be a big part of the program, in the form of pastries and porridges during the day and breads and pastas at dinner. But Gibney and Breakell will also draw inspiration from the top kitchens where they worked in New York. "On the culinary side, I'm definitely a fan of unusual combinations that eat like something familiar. I don't want to scare anyone off," Gibney notes.
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As an example, he describes a lamb dish flavored with miso and seaweed, pointing out that lamb has a natural affinity for seaweed and that it's a time-honored combination in parts of Scotland where sheep are raised near the shore.
The space itself will be divided into three spaces: a sunny area near the front windows that Kaplan says will have "casual energy," a central bar area that will be the focal point, and a more intimate dining area at the back. At the bar, cold cases that will display pastries during the day will be converted into a raw bar for dinner service. At the bar, grain-based spirits will take precedence as part of Emmerson's craft-cocktail slate.
Located midway between Oak and Frasca, two of Boulder's most celebrated restaurants, Emmerson puts itself in the midst of top competition. But Kaplan sees his new restaurant as fitting in well with the Boulder lifestyle and attitude. "We want to be a part of the community," he says, "so that anyone from the community can come in at any time of the day."
Kaplan expects to have Emmerson ready for the Boulder community by the end of July.