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Since mid-January, if you’ve gone to Sushi Ronin or Izakaya Ronin expecting to dine on the exquisite sushi and ramen creations of chef Corey Baker—known for preparing some of the best Japanese food in Denver—you were out of luck. That’s because, Baker says, he was abruptly forced out of those businesses in early 2019, just days after asking his partners for more control over operations. According to Baker (who is a minority partner), his fellow partners, including majority owner Alex Gurevich, sat him down and handed him a severance packet with what amounted to a termination letter.
“I have no idea why they would do that. It was a weird situation,” Baker says. “I quietly picked up my stuff and left.”
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Since that day, Baker has not returned to either restaurant (something few patrons know) and has only been in touch with his partners via their respective attorneys. Gurevich says that Baker was never formally terminated because Baker still owns approximately 15 percent of the businesses.
“It was mutual, in essence. We had ongoing dialogue and I think the partners just had differences. It’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in restaurants,” Gurevich says. “I think there was a little bit of negative energy when it happened, but I think our parties have moved on.”
According to both Baker and Gurevich, a legal process is now unfolding in which Baker will be bought out of his share of the businesses, though the end payout is yet to be determined. In the meantime, Baker is frustrated by the slow nature of the negotiations.
Exactly what unfolded between the two parties leading up to the split is also a point of disagreement. Baker says it felt like he was being sidelined for months, and when he asked to take over management and payroll, his partners told him they wanted to “go in a different direction.”
Without going into specifics, Gurevich shared a different story: “Corey is very set in his ways, and sometimes that is not for the best interest of the business. He has his own expectations and vision, but unfortunately he is not the one coming up with capital to build these restaurants, put them up, make sure payroll is met, and make sure everything is running efficiently every day.”
Gurevich says there was also a desire among the partners to let other Sushi Ronin and Izakaya Ronin cooks take the reins. Allon Moreno is now the executive chef at Izakaya Ronin and Pho Bounmaphouxay has taken over as the executive chef at Sushi Ronin.
While the legal dust settles, Denverites looking for a meal cooked by Corey Baker can find it at his new gig, which is in fact where his restaurant career began: Sushi Den.