Sketch reopens tonight and El Diablo reopens tomorrow after owner Jesse Morreale gets unanimous support from the Board of Appeals

eldiablosketchreopen.jpg
El Diablo
After three weeks of being on lock-down, thanks to the City of Denver, El Diablo and Sketch, Jesse Morreale's two restaurants housed in the First Avenue Hotel will reopen after the Board of Appeals unanimously agreed this morning that the restaurants, which were red-tagged by the city early on the morning of July 11, were not, as the city insisted, unsafe or dangerous.

Since then, 137 employees have been out of work, and Morreale has spent more than $150,000 of his business's money to fight City Hall, providing document after document proving that the city, which abruptly decided that the four-story, 106-year-old historic structure presented a safety risk that required immediate vacating of the property, couldn't back up its claims.

And this morning, after three hours of contentious back-and-forth between Morreale and his lawyer and Mike Roach, the city inspector who'd signed the July 10 order to vacate, and Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey, the Board of Appeals collectively sided with Morreale.

Andrew Hudson --former spokesman for the city, past press secretary for ex-mayor Wellington Webb, founder of AndewHudsonsjoblist.com and now high-level strategist for Morreale -- notes that the five board members are independent appointees, representing a cross-section of the construction-industry sector. And at the end of this morning's battle, "They agreed that Jesse could immediately reopen his restaurants," says Hudson, who is not getting paid by Morreale, but who vehemently believes that the restaurateur, for whatever reason, was unfairly targeted.

"The common sense argument is that this building has been around for 106 years, and they allowed Jesse to operate there for three years without objection to its safety, and Jesse provided concrete evidence from third-party engineers, as well as other evidence, that showed he's invested millions of dollars in safety upgrades," says Hudson, adding, too, that Morreale was equipped with evidence to prove that the "building is safer than it's ever been."

That's not to say, however, that Morreale is completely in the clear. "He has sixty days," points out Hudson, to "deal with some of the unresolved issues related to the building's renovations and come into compliance." But Hudson says he's convinced that what he calls the "crown jewel of the Baker neighborhood" will continue to thrive.

Location Info

El Diablo - CLOSED

101 Broadway, Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Sketch Food & Wine - CLOSED

11 W. 1st Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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37 comments
patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

I was on the phone with the city's planning department spokesperson early on July 11, and have continued to talk with city officials, and quote them, in my coverage of this issue. I've also looked at many of the documents in the case...but there's a surprising lack of them between August 2011 and the July 10 order to vacate. 

Buzz
Buzz

Screamingatawall: takes a big man to fire anonymous volleys from the safety of your mom's basement. Lori and the entire Westword staff have reported on this with nothing but Professionalism throughout this entire saga. If you have a bone to pick with Jesse, whatever. But leave Lori alone. You just sound like a schoolyard bully. Punk.

stopit
stopit

The City apologists have not spent any real time to see what was going on here.  The building was safe, the building IS safe and the building will remain safe.  The City smoke screens everyone is using to try and make Jesse be the bad guy is simply the thing City bearuacrats do to justify their jobs.  Create and then enforce silly rules to protect their power and remind ordinary citizens that they are peons in their eyes.  It's about time someone stood up to the building inspectors.  I hope it is a catalyst for others to come forward.

screamingatawall
screamingatawall

Lori Midson and others, please read the story more carefully: the city granted the owner more time to do repairs in order to make the building safe. The owner knew he had work to do to ensure safety and knew the time line on which to make them. He failed to comply and this temporary resolution only extends the time he has to complete the work. Again, the Westword assumes restaurant owners can do no wrong; an utterly uncritical and uninformed perspective. Imagine a future in which diners are injured during a snow storm. Everyone would say "Where was the building inspector? Why did the city drop the ball." Lori Midson: just because you get free tacos when you go to El Diablo does not mean you should compromise your journalistic ethics at every opportunity.

Hmmm
Hmmm

Lot of information seems to be missing from this article.  Let’s see if other local media did a better job of reporting on this.

 

Westword seems to suggest that the owner had not violated any codes, the City needlessly shut the restaurant down, and the owner “received unanimous support from the Board.”

 

To the contrary, according to another media outlet, the Board found that the owner had violated building codes, and granted only a temporary lifting of the notices.  According to that other outlet: “‘With the temporary lifting of the ‘unsafe structure’ and ‘order to vacate’ notices until Oct. 1, the board ruled: ‘The appellant shall be ordered to obtain all necessary permits and comply with the work plan dated August 9, 2011.’”

 

Westword, without even attempting to talk with a city representative, asserts that the city “abruptly” closed the restaurants, suggesting that the owner had no prior notice of the violations, his obligation to fix them or the deadline to do so.

 

Not so, says another media outlet, which had the temerity to try to obtain both sides of the story.  That outlet reported: “Burns [a city representative] said there are some substantial structural repairs that need to happen to the building as well as some fire safety issues. ‘And some issues with the roof, and those were all detailed in a work plan that has been in existence between the owner and the city for a couple of years now,’ Burns said.”

 

People will have to decide for themselves whether Westword’s reporting on this issue has been fair and objective, or something else.

sporobolus
sporobolus

what were Roach and Buckey's points?

 

would like to know details of "some of the unresolved issues"

 

Jeff
Jeff

The need to pay back more than the $150K.  The city officials who made this seemingly arbitrary decision should be terminated immediately and the city should pay back not only court costs, but three weeks of missing profit for Morreale and three weeks of lost salary for the 137 people that were put out of work.  Perhaps the best thing for the city to do would be to pay for all the necessary upgrades to the building themselves.  That might go some small way toward making up for the horrible damage they've done.

BDHguy
BDHguy

and will the city pay him back the 150 grand he lost fighting this BS?????????   somehow, i doubt it. 

screamingatawall
screamingatawall

 @Buzz So much anger! If there is a grand conspiracy against a taco joint being waged by the building inspector, please tell us why? The city gave this company the loans to revitalize this building and they regulate public safety. Morreale failed to comply. Please tell me where is the grave injustice?

 

Leave Lori alone? I'm sure the esteemed Ms. Midson can handle herself. If she feels confident enough to put her own name on her "reporting," then she should be able to answer for it.

 

P.S. My mom's basement is awesome but I don't live there. Sorry.

screamingatawall
screamingatawall

 @stopit Why then was not this work order not addressed before the restaurant was shut down? The order was dated Aug 9, 2011. Why would the kindly owners jeopardize their employees and their business by allowing this work plan to go unfulfilled? To somehow blame this on civil servants seems like an easy target.

LoriMidsonCafeSociety
LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editor

Perhaps if you stopped "screaming at a wall" and read the story instead, you wouldn't have skipped over this part: "That's not to say, however, that Morreale is completely in the clear. "He has sixty days," points out Hudson, to "deal with some of the unresolved issues related to the building's renovations and come into compliance." Accurate reading comprehension is an attribute. Imagine a future in which you were part of that group.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Hmmm Well, Cafe Society is not exactly a news outlet, it's a food/restaurant blog. I don't think "fair and objective" are necessarily the goals. Certainly, the news storied in the print version of Westword need to have accurate facts and details and representation from all sources, but Cafe Society seems to more about generating interest in the Denver restaurant scene (and in drawing hits and comments to help pay for all this fancy technology). So maybe it's more realistic to take it at face value that Cafe Society will likely side with the industry. Maybe there's another blog out there for city employees to express their concerns about the crumbling ethical qualities of Denver business owners.

pissedoffcrip
pissedoffcrip

 @Hmmm Additionally a Federal Court Judge has found that the El Diablo restaurant has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act..  Morreale tries to claim that since the City approved his plans that they can't possibly be a violation of ADA requirements, but the City does not enforce this Federal law.  He intentionally built raised seating that clearly violates Federal law, was found to be in violation of said law, and has yet to come into compliance.  If he is so apt to flaunt federal law, it is not surprising that he also flaunted city code requirements. 

stopit
stopit

 @Hmmm 

 

Hey hmmmm...or shall we say "City of Denver Employee"?  Hmmm?   You are sticking to the bullshit narrative the City has been feeding everyone, but I too was at the meeting.  You neglect to mention the variety of communications, emails, documents, permits and other City agencies that Morreale presented that contradicts their claim the building poses no risk.  You also forget to mention that there were two separate engineers whose analysis said the building posed no risk and that the City used an inappropriate building code standard to come to their conclusion. 

 

If  you want to go down the path of pointing out what the Westword article didn't point out, let's go at it.

 

But here's a question for you: are your bosses at CIty Hall, after having their asses handed to them, asking the question, "What did we learn from this? Should we examine a systematic failure or corruption within City Building Inspections?" or are they hunkering down and figuring out new ways to screw Jesse in 60 days?  Good use of our tax dollars, I'm sure.  The most telling part was when the City Attorney said to the board, "The loss of jobs doesn't matter to us, the loss of revenue doesn't matter to us." 

 

The arrogance and the contempt for even having to be questioned was so thick by Roach and the Kerry, it made me want to throw up a little.  Roach was practically barking at the Appeals Board.  Kerry was up to his eyes in City brainwashed mentality.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

 @Jeff 

 

The City Government needs to BURN for this fiasco !!

 

Fire the Fascist Swine who signed the Vacate Order immediately! -- and make them and the department supervisor PERSONALLY liable for ALL the $$$ damages they caused.

 

 

NoBoBear
NoBoBear

 @Jeff Bull! Morreale has been skirting the law, reneging on his agreements with the city. He brought this on himself. Sure, maybe the city lackeys were over zealous, but they were doing their job and following the laws.

 

Per various real news outlets, the line in this post about "were not, as the city insisted, unsafe or dangerous", is a bit of a stretch. Morreale's hired inspector says the building is safe. The city, matter of semantics, is agreeing that the building is safe for summer months. Per the "Denver Business Journal": ""The board agreed that the repairs are necessary, and that the work plan must be completed,” a city spokeswoman, Andrea Burns of Community Planning & Development, said...", with "repairs" being "shore it up against huge wind storms and roof improvements to handle large snowfalls".

 

Once the Chinooks returns and it starts snowing, this building IS a danger.

screamingatawall
screamingatawall

 @LoriMidsonCafeSociety I did read that, but thanks for your professional sarcasm. In journalism we would call that "burying the lead": putting the main point in the 6th paragraph. I read about this first in the Denver Business Journal where they have a full detailing of the story, not just a falsely heroic portrayal of a restaurant owner standing up to the big bad city building inspector. 

Hmmm
Hmmm

 @LoriMidsonCafeSociety Did you try to get any comments from the city, or did you feel that single sourcing from the restaurant's publicist was sufficient?

Hmmm
Hmmm

 @Mantonat Fair point.  Westword doesn't purport to be the Washington Post, doesn't have its resources, and this issue certainly doesn't rise to the top in societal priorities.  But I doubt that Ms. Calhoun or Ms. Midson would agree with you that they view this as more an opinion piece rather than reporting, or that readers should assume and acquiesce to an industry bias in articles/blogs here.  They appear to be following these comments, so they can correct me if I'm wrong.  And we're not talking about expecting exhaustive reporting - is it really too much to ask a writer, even of a blog, to pick up the phone and get the other side of the story?  Other local media outlets with equally tight budgets and time constraints did so. 

 

OTOH, maybe you're right -- any piece that ends with "And that, people, is some of the best news we've heard in a long time" sure sounds more like an opinion piece than an attempt at fair, objective, unbiased reporting.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Hmmm And just to clarify, I'm not trying to say that the writers who have covered this story are not professional or inaccurate. I'm just saying that blogs in general tend more toward opinion pieces rather than straight up news reporting. I think there have been plenty of facts reported along the way and plenty of supporting documents/statements posted along with the blog entries.

reinhold23
reinhold23

 @pissedoffcrip  @Hmmm  I didn't think that ADA requires access to *all* seating areas of a restaurant. There's nothing unique about the raised seating that isn't accommodated elsewhere in the restaurant.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @pissedoffcrip  @Hmmm Not to be a Dave Barnes, but look up the difference between flout and flaunt. It really changes the meaning considerably. </endDB>

Hmmm
Hmmm

 @stopit I have no relationship with the city, and wasn't at the hearing.  I assume your presence at the hearing means you did have an interest in its outcome, and I'm just guessing here, but I'll bet you weren't rooting for the city.  If, as you say, there are important facts not reported by Westword (or any other source that I've seen), then you too should be calling it to task.

Jeff
Jeff

 @NoBoBear No one is saying that the building doesn't need repairs and renovations.  I imagine it needs lots of them. 

 

I am only saying that the "vacate immediately" order was incredibly stupid and irresponsible and did great personal harm to the livelihoods of dozens of people.  The fact that the responsible parties don't seem to think those lives and jobs are worth much because they're just restaurant employees is reprehensible. 

 

If the building has been standing for 100+ years, the idea that one inspector says it might fall down at any second (when dozens disagree with him) is ridiculous.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

 @NoBoBear  @Jeff 

 

Funny ... the last 100 years of Chinooks and Blizzards haven't knocked the building down.

 

.

Truth
Truth

 @DonkeyHotay Jealous of an internet loser who desperately tries for the attention and respect of people I've never met?

 

No. Not at all. Keep trying though.

Truth
Truth

 @DonkeyHotay 

 

It's truly pathetic how much you desperately want the attention and respect of Westword staffers and editors.

LoriMidsonCafeSociety
LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editor

 @screamingatawall My pleasure! We've comprehensively covered this saga since day one, and there are plenty of full details in those previous stories, including direct communication between Jesse Morreale and the city. Clicking on the links in my story will point you in the right direction. And it's "lede" -- not "lead." Either way, your assertion would mean that I started the story with nonessential details. The fact that both restaurants are reopening after a three-week brawl with the city would strike most people as the most essential detail. Enjoy your evening.

Hmmm
Hmmm

 @Mantonat If I was unduly harsh, I apologize.  I actually love Cafe Society, and read it all the time. I just think they dropped the ball on this one.  This appears to be a minority view. In any event, I've spent too much time on this, and won't be responding further.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Hmmm Sorry for confusing you with someone else - that's what I get for accusing someone of skipping the details. 

 

As far as OpEd vs reporting, OpEds still need to have supporting facts, otherwise the opinion is worthless. It seems clear to me that Cafe Society and Lori are taking the side that El Diablo and Sketch should never have been closed and that the review board did the right thing in allowing Morreale to re-open with conditions. I also think that Cafe Society has presented plenty of evidence to support this opinion - copies of letters from both sides, quotations from both sides, information from the hearing yesterday, etc.

 

The real issues may be:

1) There seems to be a basic disagreement over what constitutes "safe." The city is still requiring Morreale to make certain improvements, and it seems likely that Morreale and the engineers/experts he has hired seem to think that they have already done what they need to and that the city's engineers/experts are wrong. If this is the case and if Morreale is unwilling to comply, we may just see a repeat of this in 60 days.

 

2) The city confused the ADA and life-safety issues or there is a conflict of interest within the city regarding these two separate issues. I wouldn't call this corruption, as others have, but at the very least an over-zealousness on the part of the city in attempting to protect one interest group using the rules of another set of compliance requirements.

 

In either case, all of this can be gleaned from the three weeks worth of coverage from Westword, so it seems a little harsh to call into question the reporting skills or fact gathering diligence of the writers.

screamingatthefloor
screamingatthefloor

 @Hmmm

 Lori's talking about employees being able to return to work, and in this economy, that IS good news. If you don't see that, then I have two words for you: callous asshole. How ridiculous that you're basing an entire blog post - and its "attempt at fair, objective, unbiased reporting" - on one sentence that ends on a positive note. There's a ton of good reporting in this blog post. Just because you may not agree with the stance of Andrew Hudson doesn't make him wrong.  

Hmmm
Hmmm

 @Mantonat You got the wrong person - I wasn't the commenter who talked about key facts being buried.

 

I did not "miss the point" concerning the difference between Westword and this blog.  You just disagree with my point.  As I said, in my view, even a blog author purporting to report on an issue has responsibilities to her readers, the most basic of which is to try to obtain both sides of an issue.

 

Looks like Ms. Midson has "liked" your comment, so I'd very much appreciate her views on whether she attempted to talk to the city, whether she views this blog as more akin to an OpEd piece, and whether readers should expect an industry bias.  I don't think these are unfair questions to pose.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Hmmm And you totally missed the point that there is a difference between Westword and Cafe Society.

 

Cafe Society is a blog. It's updated multiple times daily. It covers the Denver restaurant and food scene. Do you look for "fair, objective, unbiased reporting" when you read the weekly Meatless Monday recipe? It's totally slanted toward vegetarians! There's no fairness toward carnivores! 

 

So, the cool thing about this format is that it engenders debate. And I think Cafe Society has provided more than enough facts over the past three weeks that this story has evolved to allow for informed debate. You are welcome to draw a different conclusion than Lori did, but recognize that she did in fact draw a conclusion that was not just some shoddily prepared opinion. I think it's fair to question the opinion, and probably welcome, but I think you lack the evidence to question the factual integrity of the blog posts thus far. And when the facts that are in the article are pointed out to you, you just claim they were buried. In other words, you just skipped the inconvenient parts.

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