Sue Smith deserves recognition as one of the metro area's longest-standing and most innovative restaurateurs, but the vast majority of Denver residents probably don't know her name. More than thirty years ago, though, she started New Orient, a Vietnamese seafood restaurant that earned several Westword Best of Denver awards from its strip mall location near the intersection of South Havana Street and East Iliff Avenue.
New Orient closed two years ago, but Smith currently operates Cody's Cafe & Bar and Bettola Bistro in the same shopping center, and she's doing everything she can during the coronavirus crisis to make sure her legacy lives on beyond these difficult times.
To start with, Smith, like many other restaurant owners around the city, has switched to curbside pick-up and delivery at both restaurants. Fans of Cody's will still be able to enjoy the eclectic mix of Italian and international cuisine, including pizzas and the unusual but delicious penne pasta with housemade lemongrass sausage and soy-ginger sauce. She's also trying to keep as many employees working as possible, so the restaurant's manager and one of the servers "have been busy playing to their artistic strengths creating beautiful paintings right on the dining room walls," Smith notes, and they've also been creating cocktail kits for takeout customers.
Meanwhile, the cafe's wine buyer/sommelier, Schafer Pennington, has expanded his duties to including dishwashing, but he's also busy making limoncello and other citrus-based Italian ’cellos, which will be ready for late-spring sipping.
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At Bettola, where chef Enrique Socarras just started at the beginning of the year, Smith says the chef is applying his "jack-of-all-trades skills" to create takeout-friendly menu items beyond the Italian eatery's standard menu. Her favorite at the moment is Socarras's veal lasagna. Next week the chef and some of his team will begin planting gardens to supply extra produce to both restaurants.
Beyond just keeping the food coming, the restaurateur has been making sure her employees are safe and secure, not only by following strict hygienic measures, but by offering other assistance. "To keep employees from being fearful, worried, I’ve assisted staff with rent payments and bonuses for helping me keep an upbeat attitude and keep creating new dishes that are portable, affordable to be shared at home with families," she explains. "I’m trying to cope with the financial crisis due to lack of business by bringing our staff together — spreading love and kindness, not viruses."
So far, Aurora has aligned with Governor Jared Polis's original order to keep restaurant dining rooms closed until April 30, but that could change (and Denver has set its reopening date at May 11, which some of the other suburbs are following). Smith says safety is the most important thing — plus a little love and kindness.
Bettola Bistro and Cody's Cafe, at 10253 and 10203 East Iliff Avenue, are both currently open from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 to 8 p.m. for dinner every day but Sunday. Call Bettola at 303-750-1580 and Cody's at 303-751-1288 for details and ordering.