"The way I look at it," he says, "you do the same amount of work doing twenty dinners a night as you do doing 250 dinners a night. So why not do the place that does 250 a night? Provided you can put out 250 good plates, of course."
Ah, spoken like a true executive chef. Spoken like a guy who has restaurants -- Nine75 and Ocean (see review) -- that actually do those kinds of numbers, and who isn't touching every single one of those plates himself.
In signing on with Jim Sullivan and his eponymous restaurant group after years spent honing his craft at points west (California, Hawaii and Singapore), Guard has made the jump from plain working chef to Exec-with-a-capital-E. The fact that his deal was sealed with a wedding ring (he's married to Leigh Sullivan, Jim's daughter and the company flack) makes his position that much more solid -- but it's not like Guard runs his places from an ivory tower. He's not taking calls while sitting on some beach in the South of France. More often than not, he's at one of his restaurants. He knows all of the guys on his crew not just by name, but by resumé. He knows what each of them can do and what they can't. He can tell you which prep on which menu came from which guy.
And that's going to be a big help as Guard sets and staffs two more Sullivan Group restaurants scheduled for October openings.
The first, the much-talked-about Nine75 North -- sister to Nine75 at 975 Lincoln Street -- is going into a choice space in Country Club Village, at 120th Avenue and Federal in Westminster. Not surprisingly, it will be a close copy of the original, offering the same jumped-up comfort food in the same hip, ironic and post-modern style that Guard imposed on the first Nine75, polished in its kitchen, used at Ocean (and at Jet Hotel's lounge and private club, Twenty, where Guard is on the hook for consulting and providing menus) and now pimps at every opportunity because it's both attractively goofy -- with loaded potato skins on the dinner menu and many dishes named after himself or members of his staff -- and so good it's earned the right to be taken seriously.
Details of the second opening have been kept much more hush-hush. Jim Sullivan hasn't wanted to discuss what he has planned for the steakhouse half of Diamond Cabaret & Steakhouse at 1222 Glenarm Place, and in the absence of solid information, people spread rumors. I heard everything from a Denver version of Tony Soprano's Bada Bing, with strippers in fuck-me heels bringing fat steaks and double Scotches to the city's tasteless elite (which is basically what the steakhouse was already doing), to a full-on American geisha sushi bar with tatami rooms and shoes left outside the door.
When I finally got Leigh on the phone after my visits to Ocean and asked about the new place, she was recalcitrant. She was coy. She flat-out told me that her father wasn't going to talk and wasn't going to allow her to talk, because it was his baby and he wanted to protect it as long as possible.
Finally, after several calls and more behind-the-scenes negotiating than went on during the Nuremberg Trials, I got some scoop. The restaurant will be known as Oscar's Steaks and Cigars, and while the Diamond isn't your run-of-the-mill, blue-collar, doing-it-for-the-rent-money-and-trying-to-hide-the-track-marks titty bar (in fact, it's a member of the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau website and listed as a place where you can get a good steak and a bottle of champagne and meet with politicians and businessmen without getting skank all over you), Sullivan and company are doing everything they can to set the place apart from the Diamond while legally still falling under the club's existing liquor and cabaret licenses as a concessionaire.
"It's a legitimate restaurant," Leigh insisted, in a way that I thought was perhaps protesting too much.
"Are you calling it a restaurant?" I asked.
"Are there going to be servers on the floor?"
"Am I going to be able to get dinner there and, at the end, be presented with a bill?"
"Well then, yeah, it's a legitimate restaurant. Why wouldn't it be?"
Leigh explained that they've been worried people would just think it was a strip club, with nekkid ladies serving steaks as well as lap dances. But that's not the case.
"It's a fight-themed steakhouse," she said, "with a separate entrance from the Diamond. But you know Jim. This one is his baby. He's picking out his own chairs, choosing his own plates. He designed his own logo. And you know what the funny thing is? Every time we ask him about it, he says, 'Oh, I don't want to talk about that right now.' I don't even know if Troy is going to be the chef there."