The new father stopped serving lunch at Aubergine and structured the business so he could spend more time at home. Besides, lunch didn't bring in a lot of money anyway. It's purpose was to bait customers with lunch and hook them for dinner. And by 1998, many diners had indeed been hooked; the cult of Kelly had reached a critical mass.
"That place was a tight ship," says Attardi. "He didn't have to be there all the time cooking every dish. He trained everybody, and he stepped away to spend more time at home. He could get there later in the morning and leave at eight, and there was never a problem in the kitchen. Never a problem on the floor."
With something of a routine established at home and at Aubergine, Kelly tried to parlay his success into a second restaurant, an Uptown spot called The Biscuit. Kelly thought it'd be relatively easy money - open a nice coffee shop to serve a burgeoning Uptown neighborhood. But The Biscuit was on a one-way street that went the wrong way for crucial rush-hour customers. The Biscuit lost money from its January 2000 opening and grinded to a halt in less than a year. The Biscuit took its toll on Kelly. It bled money and robbed him of precious family time. One month after he closed The Biscuit, in January 2001, Kelly sold Aubergine. "I had to take a break," he says.
At the time of the sale, Aubergine was a profitable restaurant. It was at the height of its popularity, with a year left on its lease. That made it the perfect time to sell, because the buyers would get an established business with rents negotiated years ago. Kelly also knew if he stayed at the location he'd want to put in at least $40,000 of improvements. In other words, he got out while the getting was great. (Only a few months later came the devastating 9/11 attacks, an event that ended that 10-year-run of good times in the Denver restaurant business.) In retrospect, though, Aubergine was a golden era for Kelly. "I didn't realize how lucky I had it then," he says.
The money from the Aubergine sale was like an inheritance from the rich uncle Kelly never had. But it wasn't enough to retire - not even close. He couldn't sit still for long, and his addictive personality pushed him back to dreaming of another restaurant. On a yellow legal pad, he came up with Clair de Lune. It was fine dining, fancier than Aubergine. He cooked every dish himself. The menu depended on what was fresh. He had local farmers growing heirloom seeds especially for him. What they didn't supply he would troll the farmers' markets himself to find. "Sean's a no-bullshit kind of guy," says Lyle Davis, owner of Pastures of Plenty Farm in Boulder and Big Bang Catering. Davis was also one of the founders of Alfalfa's Markets, the ground-breaking natural food grocer based out of Boulder. Kelly bought vegetables from Davis on the last day of Clair de Lune. "There's a lot of lip service in this industry and I can say there are only two people around here who continually support these principles - Teri Rippeto [chef-owner of Potager] and Sean Kelly."