Archive for January, 2008

Nestled between Papa John’s Pizza and Play It Again Sports, SOBO American Bistro, an upscale yet friendly restaurant, is taking a chance on a strip mall location in South Boulder.

And it’s about time. Sobo_5

Despite the arrivals of South Side Walnut Cafe and Southern Sun brewpub in the same center, residents have been starving for a higher-end restaurant since Rudi’s closed. Add to the insult of even our Table Mesa McDonald’s closing, and longtime South Boulderites such as myself were nearly doomed to the soup and salad bar at King Sooper’s. A little bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.

The guy with the guts and the idea is Stephan Frye, who has run the successful Murphy’s in Boulder for about six years. For Sobo, he’s hired Scott Claggett, a former chef for Boulder’s 15 Degrees who was looking for a new opportunity.

Three couples, including a rambunctious 3-year-old, visited Sobo for the first time, and even my out-of-town guests were pleasantly surprised by the restaurant’s warm atmosphere, impressive wine selection and interesting menu.

The topping on the cake, of course, is the huge Table Mesa Shopping Center parking lot, and the ability to completely escape the typical weekend parking hassles of downtown Boulder.

Sobo’s open kitchen design and large glass wine cellar, which separates the bar from the main restaurant,
immediately takes you in with an atmosphere similar to other notable Boulder restaurants such as the Kitchen or the Med.

Everyone’s entries, which included salmon, short ribs and a delicious Hawaiin fish, were satisfying and delicious. Prices range from about $18 to $28. A tasty selection of appetizers, $6 to $12, and salads, $6 to $10, make it tough to keep the final tab per person under $50. We shared just one bottle of an Australian Sauvignaun Blanc in the $45 range, and if there was one complaint, it was the high prices for wine, including single glass prices. Sobo also offers a selection of some tempting specialty cocktails, but at $9 a pop, a night out here with a bit too much drinking will hit your wallet pretty hard.

I’m looking forward to stopping in one day after work for a glass of wine at the bar, and to see if the typical Boulder “happy hour” appetizers may be part of SOBO, too. I suspect they will.

Of course at least one in our group had to try the small hot, sugary doughnuts and coffee dessert — a tasty treat to cap a fun night out.

Service was as good as it gets, and owner Stephen walked over at one point, asking us how we were doing. A personal touch like that typically separates who will make it or not make it in the competitive Boulder restaurant market.

My bet is SOBO has filled a real niche in a part of town “under-served” by quality restaurants. With a little luck, maybe a few more will follow.

Categories : Food and Drink
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First a bit of history.

Wild Oats, before being swallowed up by Whole Foods, had grand plans to build it store of the future here in its Boulder birthplace at the new Twenty Ninth Street retail district, a fancy name for a new outdoor-oriented shopping mall owned by Macerich Co.

Not far from the shopping mall, Whole Foods operates its Boulder store, which reportedly is one of their most profitable stores in the country, with Boulderites packing it everyday despite limited parking. Need to run into your friends? Head to Whole Foods Boulder.

OK. Now, Whole Foods owns Wild Oats, so despite having a brand new beautiful but completely empty store at the shopping mall, nothing has happened. Whole Foods, not wanting to compete against itself in Boulder, instead wants to lease the space to The Sports Authority, a sporting goods chain.

The mall’s owner, Macerich, however, says it still wants a grocery at Twenty Ninth Street and won’t allow the sublease deal for the sporting goods store, even though so far the mall does not have a good sporting goods store there.

All this came to a head last week with Whole Foods suing Macerich, insisting it has the right to sublease the former Wild Oats space to anyone it wants, and it wants to get moving on the Sports Authority deal rather than continuing to pay for space it doesn’t intend to use itself.

Whole Foods lawsuit says its proposed use “does not conflict with any exclusive use provisions that defendant (Macerich) may have included in its leases with other tenants in the Shopping Center.”

The question now being asked is does Macerich have some deal brewing with another sporting goods store? Macerich, which also owns the FlatIron Crossing shopping mall south of Boulder in Broomfield, has a Dick’s sporting goods store there, and they’ve been trying hard not to duplicate stores between the malls in Broomfield and Boulder.

Whole Foods is asking for a “speedy” hearing on the matter. Spokesman for Twenty Ninth Street so far are in the “no comment” stage.

What do I think?

Personally, Boulder is pretty much up to its ears with organic and natural foods markets, including the pending opening of a new Sunflower Markets store, the new venture of Mike Gilliland, the original founder of Wild Oats. Even the Safeways and King Soopers stores here have expanded their natural foods sections, so do we really need another grocery? Not me.

In a city loaded with specialty sports stores, however, with everything to bikes, kayaks, climbing gear and ski equipment, our present large sporting goods store, operated by Sports Authority, is in an older space at a slowly decaying strip center in north Boulder. The city is actually anxious to have that center redeveloped, so allowing Sport Authority to move to Twenty Ninth Street not only would help Macerich, but perhaps get something moving on the north end of town.

Seems to me like win-win for everyone if Macerich just says yes to the Whole Foods sublease to a sporting goods store. And the only ones losing would be the attorneys who would have another court case cut short.

Categories : Business
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A final 2007 check with the assessor showed foreclosures here set a new record — 1,004 alone in Boulder County, an area that for years has watched home prices climb.

My newspaper, Boulder County Business Report, keeps pretty close tabs on the region’s real estate market, and it doesn’t look like the new year will start out as a happy one in the highly competitive Realtor race here.

Even Boulder, where the average home price is now more than $600,000, is seeing some weakness in the market, with quite a few new condos coming up for sale, including the the Peloton, where more than 300 units are being sold in a redeveloped former industrial site.

Our story on foreclosures found that on the last day of the year alone, 29 foreclosures were filed, taking the total in December to 116.

It’s no surprise that in a market where a few years ago just about any price seemed like a good price for a home, and so-called “creative” financing was as rampant as anywhere in the country, that several homeowners are now in over their heads. While the job market has been steady here, it was also a very busy year for mergers and acquisitions, with many of those companies, including the Whole Foods buyout of Wild Oats, laying off high-level managers.

We tracked more than 70 major deals in the Boulder Valley market, including a $2.9 billion buyout of Pharmion in November.

While these acquisitions put some big bucks in owners’ pocketbooks, they also can result in turnover or loss of jobs for others in the company, and play into the turmoil in the real estate markets.

The real question right now it seems is how long will it take to absorb not only many of the existing homes for sale in the market, but the continuing flood of new homes that already were in the pipeline and being built, especially in the Broomfield and Longmont markets, south and north of Boulder, respectively.

In the last recession after Sept. 11, there was a surge in business for local remodeling companies, as homeowners decided to just fix up their houses rather than try to move up. In Boulder, where few new single-family homes can be built due to growth restrictions, the trend toward more pop-up remodels and even scrapeoffs of older homes for a larger home is likely to continue.

Through October 2007, the Boulder Realtor association reports that 4,312 single-family homes were sold in the Boulder Valley, a little slower than a year ago, but not by much. Condo and townhome sales totaled 1,573, actually a notch higher than a year ago. So activity for the year has remained pretty brisk, despite the slowdown from the sub-prime market mess.

Inflow of new residents continued in 2007, as people continue to get into Colorado’s healthier economy and its high quality of life. That’s good news for the Realtors and mortgage brokers, who’re fighting a tighter credit market, with no-doc loans completely gone and adjustable rates harder to get.

Categories : Business
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