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3/14/2004

Lazy Dog headed for Pearl

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — When a former employee of the motion picture industry decided to open a sports bar in Boulder, he knew he was taking a chance.

The space was huge: a stand-alone building of 11,250 square feet. And his plan to feature an upscale food menu to go along with the hoops, hockey and football was something that hadn’t been tried in the area before.

But Steven Ross had a plan, and he made it work.

“I had never done anything like this before,” said Ross, who previously was living in New York. “I could live pretty much anywhere, and I always wanted to live in Boulder.”

So he moved here and leased the former home of Furr’s Cafeteria at 30th Street and Iris Avenue and opened the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill.

That was 1997. Two years later, he opened the second Lazy Dog in Denver, and has since opened the High Tide Fresh Seafood Grill in Park Meadows Mall and Big Fat Rocky’s, a neighborhood bar in Aurora.

Recent problems with his lease threatened the Lazy Dog-Boulder’s existence in its current location, so Ross is taking action: He’s moving to one of the most prominent locations on the Pearl Street Mall — the southwest corner of 14th and Pearl Streets, in the former home of Rocky Mountain Records and, later, Wherehouse Music.

“There’s a lot of things at stake here — most importantly the employment of 35 people,” Ross said recently as he sat in a booth during lunch hour at his restaurant. “The obvious improvement is Pearl Street is the center of the universe in Boulder.”

A construction crew has been working to refurbish the former retail store into its new look. On the main floor, 4,400 square feet of space will be occupied by the new Lazy Dog while Naked Fish, a new seafood restaurant Ross is opening, will occupy the remaining 2,200 square feet on that floor.

There also will be a large billiards room in the basement, but Ross is perhaps most excited about the new rooftop deck — 4,400 square feet to be shared by the two venues.

“It will be two completely separate environments,” said Ross. “The only thing that they’ll share is the bathrooms.”

Ross said he notified his employees just this weekend that the physical move of his current restaurant’s furnishings likely will begin in early April, and they probably will have to close off and on while that occurs.

“Hockey playoffs start on the 7th (of April), and that’s a big deal,” he said. “What we’re going to do is try to stay open at the old place as long as we can — even if we just stay open for the Avalanche (games) — so we miss as few games as possible.”

Ross said he hopes to open at the new location sometime in mid-April, and likely will start interviewing for additional personnel earlier in the month to accommodate staffing needs at his new places.

At all of his properties, Ross said his biggest interest always has been taking care of his employees. He points to Tim Shaughnessy, his general manager at the Lazy Dog who has been there ever since the place opened.

“The thing that I’m proudest of in this operation is the relationships I have developed inside this building,” Ross said.

Once Lazy Dog leaves, the large, stand-alone building will be empty again, in search of a tenant.

The building had been owned by the Kmart corporation, but a finance company took over after Kmart went bankrupt. Ross said his relationship primarily had been with Furr’s — the sub-leasee — but last year that company went bankrupt.

“We’ve had very little contact with the finance company that took over,” he said, adding that offers to buy the building were never responded to.

“I love this building and love the business and love being in Boulder ... but we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Ross said he’s excited about his move, and stressed the parking that’s available on the east end of the mall. And there’s another reason he hopes people visit: “We’re not changing our prices even though we’re moving to the upscale district.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.