The brutal impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Colorado’s dining industry became even clearer this week with the news that three iconic downtown Boulder restaurants would not reopen. On June 8, Peggy and Joe Romano—owners of the Mediterranean Restaurant, Brasserie Ten Ten, and Via Perla—posted a statement on the restaurants’ websites and social media pages announcing their difficult decision to shutter the concepts.

“The numbers just didn’t add up for us. We had been struggling every day since March 16 to figure out how to keep going,” Peggy Romano told 5280. “Then we found out about the restaurant opening restrictions: 50 people or 50 percent capacity. With the Med, we needed 80 to 90 percent to make money. We didn’t want to wait a few months to see if it changes and spend a lot more money.”

She added that expanded outdoor dining and takeout and delivery (with alcohol) wouldn’t make up for the losses, and the business faced an indefinite period of uncertainty ahead. The Med and Brasserie Ten Ten have been closed since mid-March, while Via Perla offered a limited takeout menu.

The Med opened in 1993 at 1002 Walnut Street and was home to Boulder’s most beloved happy hour. Diners flocked for tapas ranging from crispy polenta with prosciutto to steamed Manila clams with chorizo and the restaurant’s famed house-baked artisan bread. Brasserie Ten Ten launched in 2003 at 1011 Walnut Street; the bistro specialized in French classics like steak frites and was a popular brunch destination. In 2016, the Romanos opened Via Perla at 901 Pearl Street, an upscale Italian spot focused on handmade pasta.

The couple owns the properties where the restaurants are located, but Romano says they haven’t decided what to do with the spaces yet. “In February we were so, so busy. We were feeling happy about all three places and spring was coming, so we were planning menus,” Romano says.

This week the Romanos laid off more than 350 employees, including 30 managers who had remained on the payroll. “We have people who have worked for us for 10 years or more and we had to let them go. It’s been very emotional. It’s like an extended family. The hardest part is that we haven’t been able to see many of them since March,” she says.

Chef Antonio Laudisio partnered with the Romanos to open the Med in 1993. The former owner of Boulder’s legendary Laudisio Ristorante remembers being in the kitchen on the Med’s opening night with his two late brothers, Raimondo and Leonardo.

“To close these places was a really difficult decision for us and affects so many people. I’m almost 80 and Joe is 70,” Laudisio says. “We wondered whether it was good for us to reopen three restaurants right now, but we were ready to do it. The real issue is just that the numbers didn’t work. You need the place full. I don’t blame anybody. I blame the virus.”

What Laudisio says he will miss the most is the people: eating with— and especially cooking for— family, friends, and visitors to Boulder.

“Later, we’ll revisit the circumstances. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to reinvent ourselves at some point,” he says. Meanwhile, the chef will continue his wood-burning pizza and paella catering company called Laudisio Mobile.

In their statement, Peggy and Joe Romano concluded: “We feel enormous gratitude in our hearts for the warmth and love that this community has shown us since the very first time we opened the doors to the Med in 1993, and we are honored by the memories of the wonderful dinner parties we have thrown every night without interruption for the past 27 years.”

John Lehndorff
John Lehndorff
John Lehndorff is a Colorado food journalism veteran. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU.