Openings and Closings

Four Friends Kitchen Closes University Location Over Labor Shortage

It was only a year ago that the "coming soon" sign was up at Four Friends Kitchen.
It was only a year ago that the "coming soon" sign was up at Four Friends Kitchen. Mark Antonation
Are there too many restaurants in Denver, or just not enough employees? For the owners of Four Friends Kitchen at 2070 South University Boulevard, the question is not as important as the result. The breakfast and lunch eatery is now closed because of a labor shortage.

Kurt and Sarah Pletcher and Genefer and Tim Thornton opened the first Four Friends Kitchen at 2893 Roslyn Street in Stapleton in 2015, then followed the success of that one with the University Boulevard branch a year ago. And while business has been great at both restaurants, especially on the weekends, Tim Thornton says keeping the second one staffed has been a problem. "Because we serve from-scratch food, we've found that we need a chef and a kitchen team with more experience, which has been very difficult to find in today’s labor environment," he explains.

Combine that with a lack of continuity in the front of the house, and the partners realized they couldn't sustain two restaurants. "We found it unsustainable to provide a quality guest experience when it was difficult to fully and consistently staff the kitchen," Thornton adds. "Bottom line, we struggled to staff well enough to meet our high standards for our guest experience consistent with our brand."

Rather than poach employees from the first spot to staff the second one, the group decided to close up shop to focus on quality and service at the Stapleton original; the University Boulevard restaurant is now for sale. "It is an outstanding site, but our ownership group has decided to focus on maintaining our Stapleton location rather than going through a full reboot at University," Thornton says.

In the current economy, successful restaurants must do more than attract customers and sell food. Higher wages and plenty of options for both front and back of house require new ways of paying and maintaining staff, or new ways of providing a good experience for guests with fewer employees. Four Friends Kitchen won't be the only casualty as restaurateurs adjust to a new way of doing business. And thankfully for Stapleton residents, there's still good breakfast to be had at the original Four Friends.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation