Executive chef Lance Barto gets "pushed out" from Central Bistro & Bar

Categories: Cafe Society

Lori Midson

New Year's Eve, says Lance Barto, the executive chef of Central Bistro & Bar, was a smash hit. "We had a maxed-out dining room that rocked out, everyone had fun, and we had a great service."

Inexplicably, it would be the last service that Barto would spearhead at the Highland restaurant that he was instrumental in creating.

Hours before service began, Isiah Salazar, Central's owner, made the decision to let Barto go. "Isiah approached me earlier in the day, and I discovered that he was unhappy about different parts of the menu and the way the kitchen was being managed," Barto reveals. "He felt the future of the restaurant would be in better hands if it was left to someone else."

Salazar, for his part, admits that he and Barto had different ideas for the future. "Lance was instrumental in getting Central up and running, and he created an innovative menu that our guests continue to crave, but after six months of being open, we began to emerge with differing visions for the restaurant," he says, noting, however, that he and Barto "left on good terms." He says, too, that he continues to have "tremendous respect for Lance, and Central remains in good stead, as our line has always been chock-full of powerhouse talent."

Still, Barto is reeling from the news. "We definitely parted ways amicably," he echoes, "but I'm heartbroken," he admits. "It was my baby and I lost it, and the most heartbreaking part is that we've had nothing but super-positive feedback from guests and media, and it's so sad that I was pushed out of something that I helped create and was really proud of."


But Barto, whose food at Central was remarkably good, isn't wallowing in sorrow -- at least not for long. Before he became the exec chef of Central, he was cooking at Linger, the kitchen he's returning to. "I met with the crew of Root Down and Linger, and I'm going back to Linger, at least to start. That's a warm and cozy home for me, and there are more opportunities there in the future, including Root Down in DIA," notes Barto.

As for who will command the burners at Central now that Barto is gone, that's still being sorted out. "We emphasize no one chef, but instead draw our strength from our collective talent and the mission to be a great neighborhood restaurant focused on the fine presentation of dishes that draw upon the heritage of American classics," says Salazar.

Location Info

Central Bistro & Bar

1691 Central St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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Wow that’s disheartening… . this is typical though… a chef puts his heart and soul into his job, training his staff, the food, the neighborhood and  gets well deserved great revues, form critics, bloggers and the public, and what does he get for his effort? I like what the owner has to say (not), we have different visions, what a load. His vision, was to get his restaurant set up and established in the neighborhood, and then unload Lance’s salary…..this happens so often in this business, the same with Mazzio…. Owners, investors (who usually know bupkis about the restaurant biz)  get these talented people to create a concept & establish their investments and then dump them…. This door has shut for Barto, but many more will open for this guy, he just got too much too offer, good luck Mr. Salazar, your gunna need it.

ScubaSteve topcommenter

Central Bistro definitely will not have my business.


It appears Barto stuck to his guns about his own vision which shows integrity and integrity is a value i admire, regardless. 

Barto is a fine chef and his talent will always shine through. It is only a matter of time before he finds his perfect venue.

Central will continue. Barto will continue. 


And so the drama begins.......closed in 6 months!

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Well, I guess having one of the most favorably reviewed restaurants in the city just isn't good enough for Mr. Salazar.  Clearly, he doesn't understand what made his restaurant such an immediate hit with serious diners in Denver (it certainly wasn't Salazar's design sensibilities).  I, for one, will never set foot in his restaurant again and I'm deleting my two 5 star Yelp reviews.  Shameful way to treat a talented chef who put you on the map.


Sigh... This is becoming a way too common occurrence recently. I'm not sure how owners think firing a talented chef right after opening will improve business. But it hasn't worked out at several promising restaurants: Ambria, Row 14 (with the 1st chef), Wild Catch.

I think Michael564 has it about right. Central will probably muddle along for a few months and then close with little fanfare.


Commence "pool" betting now.  I don't know how deep Mr. Salazar's pockets are, but if they're shallow --- 8 months until close.


What a shitty thing to do to a great guy and chef. That place would be closed already if it were not for Chef Barto. 


This a clear example of blaming the chef while ignoring the real problem. 

They need to fire the person who designed the restaurant and whoever gave the OK to hanging that God awful HOT sign. Seriously, I won't think about going back till they remove that sign.

Mantonat topcommenter

The whole time I was reading this, I was thinking that the ownership got what it needed out of the chef and then jettisoned him. The final quote enforces that. Who needs to pay an executive chef when you have all the recipes and techniques down? Just hand it over to line cooks and a kitchen manager you can pay less money to.


@Denver Dave what a bunch of armchair quarterback drama queens, who knows what the hell is going on over there- certainly not you.  All parties seem to be nice and talented folks.

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