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Old time favorites close as Colorado's restaurant industry booms

Our Colorado: Gentrification taking toll in Denver
Posted at 5:25 PM, Aug 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-22 21:21:25-04

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DENVER -- Some of Denver's old time favorite restaurants are about to close.

After 44 years at the corner of South Broadway and Bayaud Street, Gus Mavrocefalos is getting ready to lock the doors at Famous Pizza.

"They won't renew my lease," he said.

The owners of the building want new tenants that will pay higher rent.

Downtown, at 18th & Lawrence, the Old Spaghetti Factory is also getting ready to close up shop.

"We've been negotiating for months and weren't able to come to terms (for a new lease,)" said District Manager Jason Davis.

A Big Blow 

"It's a big blow," said Carolyn Livingston, communications director for the Colorado Restaurant Association. "It's a big impact when people lose their corner store basically, their favorite place to go."

While many newcomers to Colorado might not be familiar with the Old Spaghetti Factory or Famous Pizza, longtime residents are.

"The places...where we have family birthdays and celebrations, it's just heartbreaking when that changes," Livingston said.

Booming Industry

The irony is that Colorado's restaurant industry is booming.

"The Department of Revenue says it's grown 40 percent since 2010," Livingston said. "What used to be an $8 billion industry in the state is now a $12 billion industry."

But while the restaurant industry booms, there are more challenges than ever before.

"Your labor costs, your rent costs, all the taxes and all the things that go into that make it very difficult to run a restaurant," Livingston said. "There are so many challenges, that even in a strong economy, the challenges don't go away."

She said the industry operates on razor-thin margins.

"Best pizza on Broadway"

New customer, Kate Halvorsen, said she discovered Famous Pizza shortly after moving to Colorado.

"I'm originally from New York," she said, "and they have the closest pizza to New York Pizza."

"I feel bad...because I have all these good customers," Mavrocefalos said, while pointing to an old, framed Rocky Mountain News article which touted "one of the best pizza pies in town."

Back then, the price of a spaghetti dinner at Famous Pizza ranged from $1.95 o $2.45.

Longtime employee Aleka Damarelos has been in charge of making the spaghetti, spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce for 32 years.

"I make the salad dressing. I make just about everything," she said.

"I'm very disappointed and very sad that he's closing," she added. "I'm going to miss my boss, I'm going to miss the place. I'm going to miss the trips back and forth."

Historic Trolley Car "Destined for Graveyard"

The Old Spaghetti Factory dates back to 1973 in the historic Denver City Cable Railway Building.

"This was the sixth restaurant that we opened," Davis said. "We have 44 now."

Davis said the company is looking for other locations.

When asked if they'll take the historic trolley in the main dining room of the downtown restaurant, Davis shook his head.

"Unfortunately, the trolley is probably going to go to the 'trolley graveyard,'" he said.  "It makes me really sad, but when we open a new restaurant, all our new Trolleys have to be ADA compliant."

Davis, who has been with the company for 16 years, said the downtown location was the first Old Spaghetti Factory that he patronized as a customer.

He said he doesn't have a time frame on when they'll find a replacement location.

"I know we're trying to find the right location," he said. "Hopefully we can find another location like we did in Westminster."

A young customer eating lunch with his family on Wednesday chimed in, "We want one in Parker."

Colorado in Spotlight

Livingston said Colorado has been in the spotlight with Top Chef competition, the Slow Food Nation festival, Zagat's Top Denver restaurants and two of America's Top 100 restaurants for a big night out.

"There's a lot of growth in our industry," she said. "People are checking us out and are going out to eat, which is great for the industry, but that doesn't mean it's great for every single restaurant business."