Luigi Giordani and Gretchen Leary – operators of the Main Street restaurant Acquolina – have leased the former Rustique Bistro space on Monarch Street with plans to unveil their new Italian coastal cuisine concept, Duemani, this summer.
“We don’t have a specific deadline,” Leary said Tuesday. “We have to see how much work needs to be done. We’re not going to make it in time for Food & Wine. The earliest we could open would be July and the latest is September.”
Giordani appeared to be busy at his new 3,700-square-foot restaurant location on Monday, moving out kitchen equipment and other items to clear the Rustique space for an extensive remodel. Officially, Leary owns Duemani and Giordani owns Acquolina, but they are partners in both ventures as well as life partners, Leary said.
Rustique, which opened in 2000, served its last customers on April 13, owner Rob Ittner said Tuesday. On April 15, Ittner closed on the sale of his leases on three spaces at the Katie Reed Building and its adjacent plaza at the corner of Hopkins Avenue and Monarch Street. The spaces served the operations of Rustique, the Cooking School of Aspen and The Cottage Aspen, a recently opened special-events venue. About 12 years remained on each lease, he said.
Ittner, a former Pitkin County commissioner who sought to regain his seat last fall but lost to incumbent Patti Clapper, put the three leases and all related assets on the market last August, asking for $685,000. He declined to reveal the price that a group of Florida investors, Katie Reed Leasehold Acquisitions LLC, which includes local developer Jim Marcus, paid upon the April 15 closing.
Those same investors, through a separate corporate entity, purchased the Katie Reed Building in early January for $14.8 million from investors affiliated with Aspen law firm Garfield & Hecht PC. Aside from Ittner’s former businesses, the building is home to Meat & Cheese, Hooch, Aspen Signature Properties and Six Sigma Academy.
Leary said Duemani will be “more elevated and refined” than Acquolina. “We don’t want to compete with ourselves, obviously,” she said.
Duemani is Italian for “two hands.” Leary said there will be an emphasis on seafood but some of the menu items will involve pasta. The atmosphere will be contemporary Mediterranean, with a color scheme that’s lighter than Rustique’s interior.
She said the equipment and furniture that was inside Rustique was included as part of the new 10-year lease. “We didn’t keep a single piece,” Leary said. “We literally have donated and gifted everything away because we were not able to reuse any of it. Everything’s going to be clean and new.”
Acquolina turns 6 on Nov. 29. Giordani, a native of Rome, moved to Aspen in the early 1990s, and at one time worked in the same Main Street restaurant space where Acquolina is housed, as a server.
Leary has lived in Aspen for 18 years. They’ve been a couple for 10 years, she said.
“We’re very excited,” she said of Duemani. “We had been looking for over a year for a new space because we finally had developed our foundation at Acquolina and felt comfortable stepping away a little bit to develop a new venture.”
She said they’ve had the coastal Italian dining concept for awhile, so it was a matter of finding the right space and location.
“A lot of people are trying to come into Aspen from out of town right now – which is great, the more restaurants the better. It was tough to find a space that would work for us,” Leary said.
Ittner’s new focus
Ittner, asked about his future plans, said he hopes to take some time to rest and travel. He will continue to reside in the Roaring Fork Valley while remaining involved in the food-and-beverage industry.
“I’m working on some potential consulting projects,” he said.
Ittner said he’s involved in a multimedia platform “for all things food and beverage in the valley.” It’s called tasteaspen.com, and it will rely upon on a three-pronged approach.
“The first will be a multimedia place for people to be entertained – think about it like ‘Aspen 82,’ but all food and beverage,” he said. “We will do instructional and informational videos, some reporting … all sorts of video content revolving around food and beverage.”
Another piece of tasteaspen.com will be a platform for special events, Ittner said, “whether it’s a pop-up restaurant that we’re part of or somebody who wants to have a star chef flown in from Europe to do a dinner in their house. We will help people coordinate and curate specialty food-and-beverage events.”
The third facet of the operation will be a platform for the public to find out where specialty food-and-beverage events are happening in the valley. “If a restaurant has a special chef in for a week, we’re going to promote that,” he said.
The tasteaspen.com website is up and running, but lacks full content. “It’ll take six months to a year to have a cycle of content creation that will occupy the site. But we’re live right now with certain things.”
Ittner said his three operations at the Katie Reed property were successful.
“It was time for a change for me,” he said. “I listed the three leases and assets for sale as kind of an exploratory aspect, to find out whether this would create an opportunity for me to reinvent myself. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another restaurant in Aspen in a year or two, or maybe less.
“It’s not often in our life that we get an opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” Ittner added.