When the Squeaky Bean abruptly left its spot at 3301 Tejon Street in June, it left a hole in fans' hearts -- and also in the hot, hot restaurant neighborhood of Highland. But now the corner space next to Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe has a new tenant: Jezebel's, the next venture by Scott Durrah and Wanda James, the husband-and-wife team who closed the 8 Rivers in LoDo -- the third Colorado incarnation of their Caribbean restaurant -- at the end of October.
With Jezebel's, they're not only returning to the "fantastic neighborhood" where they'd put their first 8 Rivers in Denver (it's now the home of Venue) and have lived for the past six years -- just a thousand yards away, Durrah says -- but another kind of cooking that pulls from family.
"Jezebel's is a concept that we had been thinking about for a lot of years," explains James. "It's a Southern concept. When Scott and I think about doing different restaurant concepts, they have to mean something to us."
Durrah's family is from South Carolina, James's from Texas, where she learned a lot about Southern hospitality in the big kitchen her aunt handled at her uncle's cattle ranch. And they've brought in partners who are like family, if not actual relatives: Robert Perry, former manager of Rockbar, whom James and Durrah met their first night in Boulder, when they were opening the original 8 Rivers in Colorado; and James's brother, Darrick Barnes. "The four of us are putting this together, says James. "When we think about Jezebel's, we want you to feel like you've come into an old Southern hotel restaurant, and we're there to make you feel at home."
The menu will include "a lot of traditional Southern dishes and appetizers," says Durrah. "They'll be Southern comfort with a twist, with the healthy-food concept that Colorado is known for, some vegetarian dishes, all local produce." And, yes, he promises, answering the people who've been craving 8 Rivers's signature dish since the spot closed, "Jerk will still be on the menu." That menu will include eight or nine standard entrees, along with rotating specials.
There will also be what Durrah calls a "phenomenal Sunday brunch" with chicken and waffles, fried chicken, shrimp and grits and other Southern favorites.
And the Southern influence doesn't end there. "We're taking the whole Southern feel through the bar," adds James, "with all the regular spirits you'd expect to find, and also infusions. We're going to have a good time with the bartenders, having some fun with the drinks."
Durrah, who also spent time in Boston, says the space will almost have a Cheers feel, designed to draw regulars from around the metro area -- including Broncos, a crew he often cooks for. "We're bringing in all these levels of people who know us," he says. "It will be one of those places where you can come in four, five times a week and get something different."
But before that can happen, they have to finish renovating the space. They're figuring out how to save the old tile floor and extend the bar, are adding a small private dining area, and talking about enclosing the patio to extend the season for outdoor eating. Most important, they're putting in a new kitchen -- something definitely lacking at the Bean. But then, Jezebel's will have close to a thousand more square feet.
In order to do that, "Rosa Linda's will be downsizing," explains Linda Garcia, property manager for the space. "We had three other people interested in the space, but as it came down to it, we just decided we wanted to stay within the neighborhood, so why not have a tenant who lives in the neighborhood, as well?"
The target date for opening Jezebel's is somewhere in mid- to late- January.
In addition to working on Jezebel's, James and Durrah are still pushing their medical-marijuana edibles business, Simply Pure. And they haven't given up the idea of opening another 8 Rivers.
"The 8 Rivers concept has been a love of ours for twenty years," James says. "Caribbean is Scott's heart and soul." And so they're looking for a new spot for 8 Rivers, a place where, ideally, they can have some ownership of the building, allowing for a bigger patio and music outside. They're also exploring the possibility of putting an outpost at the airport.
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"8 Rivers isn't going away," she promises.
Right now, though, their heart is in Highland, the neighborhood where they live. "All the plans are drawn up, and meeting with all the designers right now," James says. "It's a working project. We're definitely not bored."
Part of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter devoted to Denver's food and drink scene, which arrives in e-mail boxes every Wednesday afternoon. You can subscribe here.