Bill Taibe is about to be an empty-nester and when thinking about where he’d like to spend the second half of his life, Denver tops the list.
The 46-year-old chef is getting ready to expand his restaurant chain to Denver from Westport, Connecticut.
Next year, Taibe and his business partner Massimo Tullio are opening Kawa Ni, a Japanese pub, in the fall of 2023 in a former fire station at the intersection of west 32nd Avenue and Erie Street in LoHi. In 2023, the partners aim to open Don Memo, a creative take on Mexican fare, at 1804 S. Pearl St. in Platt Park.
“We’ve fallen in love with the city and state and everything they have to offer us,” Taibe said. “These two concepts were built to expand and, when thinking about where we wanted to take them, we decided as a group that we’d much prefer to spend our time out in Colorado.”
Taibe and Tullio started For the Food restaurant group in Westport, Connecticut, in 2012 with their first restaurant together called The Whelk, an oyster bar. They’ve since opened Kawa Ni in 2014 and Don Memo in 2020.
Tullio’s stepson recently moved to LoHi for his career, and his stepdaughter briefly went to the University of Colorado Boulder.
“My partner’s travels over the last couple of years really struck a chord with him,” Taibe said. “He’s been talking about doing business and making a personal move out to Denver. It really started to spark my interest, and I am an avid skier, so that plays a big part in where I want to spend the second part of my life.”
Taibe’s son is in college in Alabama and his other son is about to head to CU Boulder in the fall.
Tullio is getting ready to move to Denver, and Taibe said he will eventually do the same.
The duo leased Kawa Ni’s 3,500-square-foot space for 10 years last week. They plan to complete a $1.5 million renovation on the space, including adding walls of cedar, tile, wallpaper and vintage Japanese artifacts. Rocco Dileo, a New York-based architect who designed Bar Taco and Barelona’s restaurants, will design both of Taibe’s spots.
Broker Ken Himel with David/Hicks & Lampert represented Taibe and Tullio in both their deals, and Kelly Greene and Lara Silversmith with Legend Partners represented the LoHi landlord.
Kawa Ni, which is inspired by Taibe’s travels to Japan, has a casual setting and serves small, shareable plates, like temaki hand rolls, noodles and ramen, dumplings and salads. Drinks include Japanese whiskey, bourbons, sake and cocktails.
“I didn’t know anything about Japanese food except that I liked it, so I went to Japan and spent a month there,” Taibe said. “I didn’t want to insult Japanese cuisine because it’s built in so much tradition. So I was very interested in the izakaya concept. And in my travels, I learned that anybody could own an izakaya because it’s like an Irish pub, where you can serve any type of cuisine. And that gave me the confidence that I could bring this home and do it without looking like a fool.”
Taibe and Tullio also leased Don Memo’s 3,500-square-foot space in Platt Park for 10 years last month. The landlord, Nora Baldwin, is developing an addition to the building that will be a live/work space, Taibe said, so they won’t be able to renovate their space until next summer.
Much like Kawa Ni, Don Memo is also inspired by Taibe’s six years of travel to Mexico, specifically Oxacana, Mexico City and Puebla. It will serve taco platters, quesadillas, ceviches and tostadas among margaritas, palomas and more.
“I’ve never been to Mexico and had a plate with refried beans and rice on it,” he said. “That’s kind of Americanized Mexican cuisine. What I’ve had when I go there are vibrant salsas, corn tortillas, and just really fresh products. It’s the epitome of seasonal farm-to-fork cuisine.”