Cafe Society

Second Act for Mark Tarbell

Almost since the day Mark Tarbell, one of the darlings of the Arizona restaurant scene, opened The Oven in Belmar, there have been rumors that he would soon open a second restaurant in Denver. There have been “Coming Soon” ads, stories about plans and promises. There have been suggestions of names (Home), suggestions of dates, suggestions of concepts. And I’m not exactly clean in this: I’ve written at least three stories about Tarbell and his second act in Denver. But as yet, no restaurant.

Still, the rumors started up again just a couple weeks ago.

So I called Stephanie Jackson, Belmar's marketing director. “We do have something that we’re working on with him," she told me. "We’re very excited, but he’s still keeping it to himself.”

Tarbell was off judging a wine competition in Los Angeles, so I called his office in Arizona, where a staffer told me they were looking at “opening in late summer or early fall,” but said she was uncomfortable discussing anything to do with concept or food…or actual dates.

I made more calls, but never found anyone willing to commit to saying anything concrete. And so yesterday morning, I knew precisely this: That Mark Tarbell knew that Belmar existed. That he might, or might not, be looking at opening a second restaurant (or bistro or café or trattoria) at some point in the next million years. That if he does, there will likely be food of some indeterminate description served there (though no one is saying what kind) and that he (Tarbell, or one of his minions) will collect money for it.

And then I finally got a call from Tarbell himself. Having finished up early in L.A., he was anxious to talk -- and to clear up some of the bullshit that’s been circling around for the past several years.

“I’ll tell you what I’ve done,” he said. “I signed a lease. Finally. This is real.”

And the lease that he signed? It’s for the space at 425 South Teller Street -- an address that might sound familiar, because it's the former home of Chama.

Tarbell went on to say that, prior to this signing, he’d never had any actual deals going anywhere in Denver. Aside from the Oven, that is. He’d never signed another lease, never had any plans to open any other restaurants, nothing. “I’ve been approached a lot,” he said. “I’ve kicked a lot of tires. But something was always wrong. I wasn’t ready, the deals weren’t right, something.”

And all the rumors of imminent openings?

“I wasn’t doing any of that,” Tarbell insisted, laying the blame on designers, developers, over-anxious managers. “And it bothers me because I like to be honest and forthright. I’m slow-moving, you know? So I was like, ‘Come on, guys. You can’t do this. You can’t say these things.’ I think I’ve put a lid on most of it now.”

And now, he's dealing with the reality of the new space. He's interviewing architects and designers, weighing his options. “We have time,” he said. “I’m going through things and deciding between the three concepts I have in my mind.”

He'll have to make up his mind fairly soon, since he's thinking of an October opening -- bur certainly nothing sooner. -- Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun