"Denver chose us," claims Cameron Mitchell, the president and founder of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which includesOcean Prime
, the two-tiered steak and seafood supper club that opens Thursday on Larimer Square, in the former Z Gallery space at 1465 Larimer Street. "We want to build two to three restaurants each year in trophy locations -- dynamic locations in great metropolitan cities -- and in 2009, on a trip to Denver, our broker showed us this location on Larimer Square and it just called to us," says Mitchell. "We loved the iconic corner location and the liveliness of Larimer Square," he continues, adding that he also scouted spaces in Cherry Creek -- an area, notes Mitchell, that "we just couldn't get our arms around."
Speaking of arms, Mitchell's loom large and spread wide, as does his career, which really took off in 1993, after Mitchell, who dabbled in drugs and alcohol before dropping out of high school during his sophomore year, only to return the following year and nab the title of class president, eventually scraped together enough money, while living off Kraft macaroni and cheese -- sans milk and butter -- to start his own company.
"I had an epiphany," remembers Mitchell. "I was working in a restaurant kitchen, where I got suspended for being late, and when I came back, I decided that I didn't want to work for beer money, but that this was going to be my career. I went from being the laziest guy in the kitchen to the hardest-working guy in the kitchen." During his "suspension," Mitchell, who was eighteen at the time, says he compiled a list of goals, which included, among other lofty objectives, becoming the president of a restaurant company by the time he was 35. "I didn't want to become a restaurateur; I wanted to become the president of a restaurant group," stresses Mitchell, who is also a chef with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America.
The president, who was once homeless, now presides over seven restaurant concepts and 55 restaurants nationwide, including Denver's Ocean Prime, which just happens to stare across the street at Capital Grille, a tony steakhouse chain that Mitchell admits is his largest competitor. Not that he's remotely worried: "We're very different from Capital Grille with regard to our philosophies, culture and values," notes Mitchell. "Our number-one goal here is not to make money, but to maintain our values. Profit is second, not first." The company's credo, says Mitchell, is simple: "The answer is yes. What's the question?"
"We take care of our people; our associates come first" he continues. "And our people take care of our guests, and the guests take care of our company."
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And the kitchen crew takes care of ensuring that the plates that leave their hands are, in Mitchell's words, "perfect." Ocean Prime, he insists, won't cut any corners. "I started this concept in 2006, and we've become a great steakhouse with great seafood -- and we do it all very well," says Mitchell. The board, which includes a raw bar, soups, salads and sides, including seven manifestations of potatoes, appetizers like white truffle caviar deviled eggs and Sonoma goat cheese ravioli with Golden Oak mushrooms, prime grade steaks, fish and seafood, pork and chicken and enough sweet finales to shake up Willy Wonka, isn't groundbreaking, but during a staff tasting a few weeks ago, I sunk my jaws into a New York strip that convinced me that the staff knows its way around a slab of old-school bloody beef.
When Ocean Prime opens on Thursday, following a charity benefit for Denver Hospice on Wednesday night, it'll feature a throwback piano bar in the 100-seat, street-level bar, which, by the way, is overseen by "bar chefs," a term that Mitchell says reflects the supper club's commitment to cocktails. "Cocktails are very important to a supper club, and we put the same creativity into our cocktail program as we do the food. Our kitchen staff is heavily involved with the bar, making fresh purees and testing and tasting recipes." And the recipes, both at the bar and in the kitchen, will radiate with the Denver crowds, predicts Mitchell. "We pride ourselves on a doing a great restaurant concept and delivering great food and hospitality to everyone who walks through our doors."
Ocean Prime will serve lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and dinner nightly. For more info, call 303-825-3663.