Shocker of the day: Virgilio's closes in Lakewood

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Restaurants go dark all the time -- even the best ones -- but nonetheless, when I read the e-mail yesterday from Virgilio Urbano, announcing that he'd abruptly closed the original Virgilio's in Lakewood, across the street from Belmar, I was stupefied. Frankly, I was beyond stupefied. The pizzeria is one of the best in the city; it was nearly impossible to snatch a seat, even during off-peak hours; and the joint was making money hand over fist.

What gives?

"The landlord won't renew my lease long term, because the King Soopers, which is just a few doors down from us, is looking to expand, and the landlord would only offer me a month-to-month lease, or a one-year lease, and then they can kick me out whenever the hell they want to -- that's what gives," says Urbano. "Why would I want to hold on to something that has no foreseeable future?"

And, so, yesterday morning, at 8 a.m., after getting, he says, barely two hours of shut-eye, he picked up the phone and called each of his fifteen employees to break the news. "I'm incredibly sorry for my employees -- that's the most difficult part of all of this -- but I called each one of them personally, and offered the majority of them jobs at the Littleton location," says Urbano, referring to Virgilio's Pizzeria and Wine Bar, the gigantic Italian restaurant, pizzeria and wine bar (and our Best of Denver pick for best bar in the suburbs) that he opened in August of last year. "We're starting training for them right away," he adds.

The entire situation, admits Urbano, is "beyond upsetting," and while he admits that there were several variables that came into play, it ultimately came down to the breakdown of the lease -- a lease he'd had for five years. "Virgilio's existence would always be at the mercy of the landlord, and at the whim of King Soopers, and I'd be looking over my shoulder the entire time," he says. "Instead of enjoying our delicious, award-winning pizzas, garlic knots and homemade mozzarella, families will have the luxury of additional shopping aisles for a wider selection of dog food, paper towels, chips and toiletries."

Just what the neighborhood needs. Still, Urbano isn't going to spend his time kvetching. Instead, he's concentrating entirely on the new space. "I'm doing really well here, and we're continuing to get better and better."

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