The only bare facts that interest owner Sam Taylor are his current dealings with the City of Denver; if he were heading back to elementary school right now, his "What I Did Over My Summer Vacation" would be a sorry recounting of the time he's spent in court over the past several months trying to settle his debts with the city.
As it stands, he has just one more debt to go. Although Taylor's current restaurant is located in Glendale, for a decade he reigned as pitmaster supreme at the restaurant at Denver's City Park Golf Course. The city started auditing that course in 1994 and came up with a past-due bill for Taylor's tenure that went back to 1992. At the end of this past July, after several appeals, Taylor and the Denver Department of Revenue finally arrived at a settlement figure of $29,000 -- way down from the initial assessment of more than $200,000 that the city had slapped Taylor with in 1997, and $32,352 less than city auditors thought was a reasonable repayment. Since Taylor had paid $38,536 on a $47,258 audit assessment back in 1994, Parks and Rec decided that would cover the July settlement deal -- but there still remains another outstanding debt of $18,269 Taylor owes for his time at the golf-course eatery. (Most of the money owed stems from Taylor's use of the golf course facility for his private catering company.) The city tried to collect it a few years ago but was thwarted when Taylor located his eatery in Glendale making it tough to put a lien on the new property, according to R.J. Ours, the public-relations guy for City Auditor Don Mares.
"When Taylor opened outside of our jurisdiction, that made it much more difficult for us to collect," Ours says. "We would have to have the Arapahoe sheriff involved, and it just wouldn't be cost-effective because of the bond and the paperwork, which kind of makes a huge loophole for people who get out of the city and open another business. So, basically, we consider this an outstanding uncollectable, which means Sam Taylor as good as stole from the people of Denver."
Taylor's not alone, though: According to an audit summary of money owed the city from January 1995 to the present, more than $1.5 million is still outstanding on city contracts, a list of which includes nearly three dozen companies. (The Rocky Mountain News recently pegged the outstanding amount at $3 million.)
But Taylor doesn't want his name on that list any longer. "I want my name cleared," he says, "so I have every intention of paying back that money." Taylor initially said he thought he had paid it back; his attorney, Aaron Hughes, explains that "what he really means is that he just didn't know that this was still an issue to the city."
Adds Hughes, "At the time that the city came up with this figure, it was determined that it wasn't a large enough amount to really fight over." According to the attorney, Taylor had thought the city could collect on a performance bond he'd posted; according to Ours, because Taylor had a different bond company every year, it was impossible for the city to nail down any of them. "It's difficult to collect on a bond," Ours explains. "Every time we tried to go after it, they'd change the bond company and we'd have to start over again. And at some point, you have to determine that it doesn't make sense to spend $100,000 to go after $18,000. But does that mean Taylor doesn't still owe the money? Don't be ridiculous."
Taylor seems to think that because he brought a lot of money to the city from his successful barbecue venture, the city should cut him some slack. "Everyone wants to talk about the money I owe and how Sam Taylor went in and screwed everything up," Taylor says. "But they don't talk about how there were needles in the parking lot or how we never got robbed because I paid boys to go out there and hit balls to keep people from thinking the place was empty when it was." (Apparently he's forgetting that the place was robbed -- at least that's what he said back in 1997, when he claimed that all of his cash register receipts had been stolen during a break-in, which conveniently occurred at about the same time the auditor's office requested documentation from the business.)
"I did make some honest mistakes, I'll admit that," Taylor says. "I came from selling hot dogs and such in a little shop. I was a little guy trying to get into the big leagues, and I didn't know how the game was played."
Meanwhile, someone new is about to get in the game at City Park. After nearly four years as the concessionaire, Sharefkin Inc. recently lost the bid for a new contract. When it goes, it'll take El Curso Viejo -- which made the meanest green chile you'll ever find at a nineteenth hole and won a Best of Denver 2000 award because of it along with it. The city awarded the contract to Aurora's International Food & Beverage Inc. International is owned by Reginald Smith and Ed Robinson, who are also the founders of the Bocaza Mexican Grill mini-chain, and they plan to institute a full-service eatery at the park when they take over early next year.
Mex and match: Say adios to Saguaro Grill and Cantina, an ambitious eatery that tried to introduce Denver to more sophisticated Southwestern fare ("We'll Take Desert," April 29, 1999). Saguaro's intentions were good, but its location was not: It was tucked into an obscure corner of the Ramada Inn at 1150 East Colfax Avenue, a spot that's swallowed many other restaurants over the years. Although I liked the food -- especially anything with corn as an ingredient -- Denver diners apparently never took to the place (if they could find it, that is).
The space is now filled by a second branch of La Fabula, a south-of-the-border eatery that just opened its initial outlet early this year -- at 2637 West 26th Avenue, in a Victorian bungalow that once housed La Loma, then a succession of other restaurants and, most recently, the late, lamented Bali Island, Denver's only Indonesian eatery. Although the original La Fabula is easy to find and looks great, especially when the gardens are in bloom, when I reviewed the place a few months ago, I thought the kitchen delivered a mixed message ("Say What?" June 15). The simpler fare was fine, but some of the combinations were too complex to work -- and the service could be very slow. But at least at the second location, there won't be any confusion over the liquor license: One goes with the Ramada address. Meanwhile, the West 26th Avenue spot is still dry.