Openings and Closings

What Does Twelve's Closing Say About Denver's Dining Scene?

More than forty restaurants opened in July, with dozens more the month before. But amidst the boom comes news of a significant closing: twelve, which celebrated its fifth anniversary with a grand soiree last fall, will serve its last seasonally-inspired supper on August 23.

When a place like twelve closes, it's important to ask why. Is the ever-changing-menu concept no longer viable? Is the chef-owner leaving town for greener pastures in another city, much as Lon Symensma (ChoLon) and Frank Jolley IV (Gozo) did when they left the coasts to stake their claims in Denver? Or is it a sign that after so much largesse, we're on the verge of a market correction? See also: Photos of Twelve's Five-Year Anniversary Dinner, One of the Best Feasts of the Year

Fortunately, the answer to all those questions seems to be no. Jeff Osaka, chef-owner, has said he intends to reopen twelve in a yet-to-be-determined location, though the endeavor lacks a "concrete timeline."

This is good news for diners who grew to love the honesty and immediacy of menus that changed in their entirety every month, save the green salad and a chocolate dessert. It's also good news for chefs who have become part of a tighter-knit community thanks to the regular get-togethers spearheaded by Osaka. And it's good news for the city's economy, which stands to benefit from such a thriving scene.

So if the issue isn't the concept or Denver's dining scene, what does the closing of such a foundational restaurant say -- and what can we learn from it?

To me, it reiterates what we've been seeing for years: namely, that casual is king. This sounds self-evident, given the popularity of places like Work & Class and the closing of Restaurant Kevin Taylor this spring, but when twelve opened almost six years ago, the pendulum hadn't swung quite so far.

"I come from a fine dining background," Osaka told me last winter, so he "looked at the top restaurants at the time, Mizuna and Kevin Taylor," and set his sights on opening a restaurant that would "be better than these guys."

It is telling that the success of Osaka's next restaurant will be measured against an entirely different crowd; he is currently developing Osaka Ramen, a Japanese noodle joint scheduled to open this winter.

Twelve's closure also suggests that Osaka remains the thoughtful, deliberate chef he's always been, approaching the last few weeks with what he calls "business as usual." If he were another kind of chef, the celebrity kind built on rapid expansion, he could've held onto twelve as he charged into Osaka Ramen, letting a chef de cuisine run the day-to-day operation at twelve with minimal oversight. Instead, he's closing twelve as he tries his hand at the new concept, which should enable him to fully devote himself to the new endeavor. To me, this bodes well for Osaka Ramen, and for twelve, whenever -- and wherever -- it resurfaces.

Meanwhile, the space now occupied by twelve will become Butcher's Bistro, a retail butcher shop and restaurant headed by Scott Bauer, the regional manager of Snooze, as well as Tyson Holzheimer, the regional chef of Snooze; Bauer's wife, Kristin, will be the business manager. Watch for Butcher's Bistro to open in October.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz