As restaurant owners across Colorado make plans to re-open their businesses for in-person dining, chef-owner Jeff Osaka has announced the permanent closure of 12 at Madison in Congress Park. One of 5280’s 25 Best Restaurants since it opened in late 2016, the cozy, small-plates spot, a redux for Osaka’s lauded Twelve Restaurant, was known for its clever reimagining of classic dishes and relaxed approach to fine dining.
“Shortly after Governor Polis called in-house dining in mid-March, my business partner and I started thinking about closing 12 at Madison,” says Osaka. “After one day of takeout, I knew it wouldn’t work. Dining there was more of an experience, engaging with the staff and watching what was happening in the open kitchen. I knew that wasn’t going to come back any time soon.”
Osaka regrets walking away from the potential he sees in the Congress Park neighborhood, where ample foot traffic fuels the culinary corridor on 12th Avenue near Madison Street. Restaurants like TAG Burger Bar, Blue Pan Pizza, and Sweet Cooie’s have brought a bit of food cache to the area, and Osaka will miss the community.
Some of the staff from 12 at Madison will be incorporated into Osaka’s other restaurants (Osaka Ramen; four standalone locations of fast-casual Sushi-Rama; and the Empire Lounge & Restaurant in Louisville) as he and his management team begins to plan for reopening those businesses to dine-in customers. The path forward, for now, includes opening at 50 percent capacity for daily lunch and dinner service at Osaka Ramen, and to-be-determined hours at the Empire, as of mid-June. Osaka will roll out Sushi-Rama’s reopenings shortly thereafter.
Osaka is not applying for expanded outdoor dining spaces, and menus at all of his remaining restaurants will be abbreviated going forward to offset uncertainty. “Patio dining doesn’t work for conveyor-belt sushi or the space at Osaka Ramen, and we can’t forecast based on history,” Osaka says, “because this summer and fall won’t be anything like last year.”
Back in Congress Park, Osaka is considering hosting a few pop ups in the 12 at Madison space before he vacates in the fall. “There are concepts I wanted to try that never flew, like Japanese ochazuke (green tea rice),” he says. “It’s really comforting, and I’d like to play with different versions of the dish. It’s great for takeout, too.”