The first few weeks of the new year are generally a quiet time in the restaurant industry. Under normal economic conditions, this is a time for the bean-counters and accountants to put their heads together over the books and figure if the twin mercies of Christmas parties and New Year's Eve festivities were enough to fill the coffers for the lean months between January 1 and the spring thaw -- or at least until the saving grace of Valentine's Day (a big one for restaurants). For cooks and chefs and staff, it is a time to rest and recover. Winter menus will carry through the chill months and, for some places, the kitchen and the floor will be on autopilot -- cooking almost entirely for the neighbors and regulars and friends of the house.
This year, though? Things are just plain weird. With the crashed economy, those conversations about whether there's enough black in the books to keep the doors open and the lights on will take on a new urgency across the city. As I type this, I'm absolutely sure that many uncomfortable discussions are going on across the city in cramped chef's offices as austerity measures are enacted and staffs cut. And before the dust settles, our fine city is going to be down several addresses --closures forced by the meathook realities of day-to-day business in an environment where lots of people barely have the cash for a cheeseburger, let alone a steak.
Still, ours is a resilient scene and ours are brave (if occasionally fool-hardy) owners. During the last downturn in the restaurant economy, Denver still saw scores of good joints opening. And though the final cull was rough, the industry came out strong and tight on the other end.
This time around, I'm hoping for the same. At least on the front end, things seem to be following the same course, with new restaurants all over the map. In December alone, we got Tocabe (3536 West 44th Avenue), which offers Native American cuisine - including fry bread - in a Chipotle-style fast-casual environment, and will even start serving liquor in the new year. Then there's Root Down at 1600 West 33rd Avenue, which has reportedly been rocking the clock since the minute the doors opened in mid-December. And finally, at the stroke of midnight, Frank Bonanno got Bones up and running at 701 Grant Street -- with an un-fucking-believably good menu that's like crack for serious gastronauts.
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Good luck to all of them. -- Jason Sheehan