Jeff Osaka's twelve wins the numbers game on 12/12/12
When chef Jeff Osaka opened twelve in November 2008, he wasn't thinking about a day more than four years in the future, the last triple date of this century: 12/12/12. He wasn't thinking about the future much at all. He'd named his restaurant twelve to reflect the fact that he planned to change the menu every month, on the first of the month -- but in those early days, he was just living month to month.
Mark Manger Jeff Osaka in the kitchen at twelve.
That's because the space he'd found on Craigslist turned out to be in a sketchier neighborhood than he'd thought, certainly not one ready for the high-end dining experience he originally envisioned. But over the last four years that neighborhood has boomed, and last night -- on 12/12/12 -- his place was packed.
The spot that Osaka took on back in 2008, at 2233 Larimer Street, had been blues bar Kokopelli's and, before that, a chicken-delivery joint; it was next to a pawn shop and across from a shelter. Although neighborhood pioneer Snooze was doing a big business on the corner, it closed hours before twelve started serving. But then other restaurants started moving into the Ballpark neighborhood, including Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria just a block away. Ignite and Trillium joined the lineup on that block last year. And this year, Amerigo and The Populist ventured further up Larimer.
But twelve was the only place to be on 12/12/12. "At one point, there wasn't an empty seat in the house," says Osaka, who stayed busy in the kitchen. And it wasn't packed because he'd offered a twelve/12/12/12 deal. "We don't do a lot of those," he points out. "We don't do a happy hour, for example."
Changing the menu every month is enough. At this point, he's created fifty menus, and the only constants have been the green salad and the chocolate trio dessert, "which has been on from day one," he says.
There have been other changes, too. "We've evolved," he explains. "We've come a long way since that first month." In the beginning, was a "pretty fancy restaurant," but because of both the neighborhood and the realities of the overall Denver market, twelve soon dialed that down.
Now Osaka is ramping up hours, if not prices. "We're considering opening seven days," he says. "We've been five days for four years now."
And as 12/12/12 showed, winning in the restaurant business can be a numbers game.