On December 31, the Tavern Platt Park will issue last call: The Tavern Hospitality Group closed on the sale of the building at 1475 South Pearl Street late last week. Over the past decades, that spot has held a number of restaurants, including India's Pearl, before THG bought the place in 2012, and the new owner plans to put an eatery there, too. But it won't be a Tavern.
"It never did the sales we were hoping," says Frank Schultz, who founded THG with his mother, Terry Papay. And this despite the fact that the group put plenty of thought into making the place neighborhood-friendly, buying nearby properties to make sure that the restaurant would have enough parking, moving a planned patio from the back of the building to the front, and limiting hours. And while THG had emphasized sustainability before, "this will be the first green Tavern," Schultz told us in 2013, when he was looking at a fall opening that year (it finally debuted in February 2016). "We're escalating that to use more Colorado products, Colorado brands."
But in Colorado these days, and specifically in Denver, the restaurant business is getting tougher...and Schultz wants to focus on THG properties that are doing well and can weather tougher times ahead.
"The state and the city are putting way too many financial burdens and pressures on the restaurant business," Schultz notes. "I don't think they really understand, especially in the hospitality industry, the burdens they're putting on a business that already has a ridiculously tight margin." Property taxes are going through the roof, he points out, paid sick leave is on the horizon, and the city "is handing out liquor licenses like water."
Meanwhile, while most restaurants are already paying far more than the current minimum wage for back-of-the-house workers ($16 for dishwashers, Schultz notes), the rise in minimum wage on January 1 coupled with the tip credit will really put the squeeze on restaurants. (All of the Platt Park employees have been offered jobs at THG spots, although with all the competition for restaurant workers, they won't have any trouble finding positions, he points out.)
Given the difficulties the business faces, most restaurants will have to resort to "increasing prices," Schultz says. "And I don't think this market has been trained to accept it."
So he's sticking with his places that show promise. "We did our downsizing; now we're going to maintain what we have," he explains. "I want to make it clear, I'm not closing my company: I'm just not willing to hang in there with some things."
Things like Platt Park, or the Tavern Wash Park that he closed in April 2018, after ten years. Last year, Schultz sold the building at the corner of 20th and Market streets where the Soiled Dove got its start more than two decades ago, after he made the unlikely transition from tow-truck driver (working for his father in Philly) to restaurant entrepreneur.
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As LoDo boomed, that building was transformed into the Tavern Downtown and the Cowboy Lounge; Schultz closed both of those places in October. "LoDo is changing," he explains. "I might come back there with a new concept some day." (He still owns property nearby.)
The Soiled Dove is now in Lowry, where the Tavern Lowry is going strong; so is the Tavern Littleton, he says. After next summer, when its patio does a booming business, the Tavern Tech Center will be remodeled, probably into a second Otra Vez, the cantina concept Schultz introduced on the the 16th Street Mall in 2017. THG still owns Choppers, the sports bar in Cherry Creek, and Schultz says that the group will continue to run that, with an eye to eventually developing the property.
But what's next on his plate is getting back into Uptown, where Schultz opened his first Tavern back in 2000. He sold the property at 423 East 17th Avenue in 2015, signing on to keep a restaurant in a new development built there. The facade of the former Uptown Tavern, an old market, now fronts an entirely new building where THG will be handling all of the retail, 14,000 square feet, as well as introducing a new dining concept. "It's going to be beautiful," promises Schultz. "We wanted to do the Tavern because it was the first...but there are just a lot of reasons why a sports bar in and of itself doesn't make sense the way it did back then."
But for now, it's time to say so long to Tavern Platt Park. "I don't want the losers to weigh down the winners," concludes Schultz. "It's not worth the aggravation."