The Bite

Good to gone: Now that he's had some time to think about it, Tom Moxcey says that if he had it to do all over again, he'd still open Diane's Good to Go -- but he might do things differently next time around.

Moxcey closed two of his five Diane's locations last October; he closed the other three on May 15, shutting down Denver's first -- and probably not its last -- independent gourmet takeout venture that operated satellite locations from a central commissary. "In the light of day, once you've had a chance to get over the dark part of realizing it's over, you have to just accept that it's a business venture, and even though I put my heart and soul into it, it didn't work out," says Moxcey, who has been taking an active role in making sure all 66 employees have found "new homes," as he puts it. "You never feel great about something like this. But I worked hard on this for three years. I just wasn't about to work six more years on something that wasn't working."

Service-industry insiders had speculated from the start that the Diane's concept would never fly. But Moxcey thinks he's learned a few things that will help the next group that tries the gourmet-takeout business to take off. "First of all, while this was a cool concept, it was a totally unknown commodity to the consumer," he explains. "Once people came and tried it, they liked it. But we had trouble convincing them that we could pull it off on a consistent basis, like a quality chain restaurant. So if I did it again, I'd make sure I put some serious capital toward marketing that idea, toward brand introduction and marketing. And second, I'm not convinced that I allocated the initial capital that I had in the best way possible to begin with. I think I would have put more money into making that commissary a sound operation right from the start. I think, bottom line, I'd have allocated those resources much differently."

One problem Moxcey never had: finding good help. "I'm always hearing other people singing the blues about how bad their staffs are, but I believe that good employees are attracted to good managers," he says. "There are places in town that have excellent staffs -- a lot of them -- and I think if you're complaining that you don't, you need to look within to find out what the problem is."

I certainly never experienced service problems at the Diane's Good to Go I frequented, the one at 2900 East Sixth Avenue. And the food was not only better than what you usually get from a takeout place, it was better than what I've eaten at half of the restaurants in town. Still, Moxcey had a tough time selling that quality to potential customers. "What we needed to find a better way to do was market the concept," he explains, "so that it was always part of the process when people were thinking about where to go for dinner. We needed to be a solution. For instance, we never thought of the decision to use Diane's as a decision between cooking and Diane's, but between a restaurant and Diane's."

Moxcey points to modern eating habits as further proof that the Diane's concept has merit. "It used to be that you ate what Mom put on the table," he says. "Nowadays, that's practically child abuse. People eat out so much, at places where there are so many choices, that kids get it that they don't have to eat the same thing that Mom or Dad or the rest of their family is eating. And that drives dining decisions. I also realized that different parts of town were more open to the idea than others. The neighborhood around Sixth Avenue got it right away. The suburbs did not. And it does become a matter of perspective. I mean, we had people bitch at us about a six-minute wait."

And it's not as though Moxcey had gone into Diane's, which was named after his wife, like some upstart punk. Moxcey had been with Frank Day's Concept Restaurants Inc. for eight years (he eventually became president of Rock Bottom Inc.), the Village Inn for five, and the company that owns the Cork and Cleaver chain for fifteen years before that. "I learned a lot from those ventures, like how it's not easy to cook the same recipe all over town and have it taste the same," he says. "Like with the shrimp pasta at Rock Bottom. You can't imagine how difficult it is to get 21 chefs across the country to pay attention to the heat in Anaheims."

Moxcey's going to bide his time before deciding what to do next. First, though, he's going to take a moment to smooch Diane, who's been his life and business partner for 36 years. "My kids are all grown, so I don't need to worry about them," he says. "And I'm having a lot of fun staying up late to watch public television. But I really love the hospitality gig, and I enjoy working with people, doing the stuff that brings so many other management types to their knees. I'll find something to do. In the meantime, it'll be interesting to watch what the next people will do with the Diane's concept -- and you know someone will do it. The notion is solid. They just need to work out the intricacies."

Name game, second verse: Skydiner (1700 Vine) has changed its name to Rhino, an ironic move since owners Dave French, Brewster Hanson, Paul Greaves and Lisa Quinn -- who also own The Hornet (82 Broadway) -- had staged an elaborate contest to name the restaurant that took over the former home of Juanita's Uptown. When the owners didn't like any of the public's suggestions, they came up with Skydiner, which I always thought was unwieldy at best. Apparently they finally agreed, because they recently decided to stretch the name Rhino, which they'd given the bar space next door (in what had been Mike Berardi's), to include the restaurant, too.

In addition, chef Ric Rosser, whose first move after replacing original chef Karl Rinehart was to way upscale the menu, has revamped the roster once again -- this time to emphasize more casual fare. "It's still sort of eclectic New American cuisine," says general manager Joe Stock. "It's much friendlier to the neighborhood now, though, with more of an emphasis on fun instead of fancy."

Rhino's decor has been altered, too, with orange-tinted lighting and greenery around the edges to soften the once-stark atmosphere. And the owners have also added the Sugar Lounge, a private room that can seat up to a hundred.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner