Long before Eastbridge and Stanley opened, the Bistro on the corner of 29th and Ulster was an outpost for grown-ups seeking sophisticated comfort in a largely kid-free zone.
Three years into its tenure here, a cascade of events has brought about the close of this neighborhood gem.
The Bistro was started by a group of Stapleton neighbor-investors, who envisioned a small-plate restaurant where people could gather for upscale cocktails and uninterrupted conversation.
According to chef/owner Anthony Ramos, trouble began when one of the original shareholders, Richard Motarjeme, defrauded numerous investors in the restaurant beginning not long after it opened. Ramos said Motarjeme—in what sounds like a scheme out of The Producers—wooed new investors with promises of high returns on initially small investments. Paying them back through other investment money, Motarjeme then lured them into larger investments, which he used for his personal gain instead of investing in the restaurant, according to Ramos.
All this occurred without the knowledge of the original owners, who started noticing discrepancies in June 2015. Deposits to Bistro accounts were quickly followed by cash withdrawals, and Bistro funds were expended in Las Vegas. The equity investors made loans to keep the Bistro going and filed charges with the district attorney’s office in November 2015.
Motarjeme was indicted in October 2016 on 19 counts of fraud and theft, with losses to Bistro investors totaling $405,000. Similar losses to neighboring Wine Cellars and Bottle Shop totaled $75,000, according to the D.A.’s office. In May, Motarjeme was sentenced to eight years in prison—with all but 120 days of the sentence suspended—and was ordered to pay restitution to those he defrauded, though investors don’t expect to see a dime.
“Just because we have this safe, wonderful community, it’s not without risk,” said a longtime Stapleton resident who invested in the company. “We need to remember that we still have to protect ourselves.” This investor urges those contemplating neighborhood collaborations to do background checks, even on friendly neighbors.
As a result of the losses, “we spent an entire year robbing Paul to pay Peter,” said Ramos. “We were falling behind on bills, on taxes.” The restaurant business is tough under the best of circumstances, and efforts to repay debt hobbled the establishment.
Adding to the Bistro’s woes was the sudden influx of competition from Stanley and Eastbridge— over a dozen new restaurants opened in the area in 2017. Revenues at the Bistro dropped about 40 percent, according to Ramos, who said he used personal savings to keep the restaurant afloat.
In recent lease negotiations, Ramos proposed some basic improvements in addition to a rent reduction to continue operations. But discussions with landlord Tom Razo proved fruitless. “They sent an email back saying this doesn’t work,” said Ramos. With no lease, the Bistro couldn’t renew its liquor license, which was the final nail in the coffin for the restaurant.
Ramos doesn’t know his next moves, but as for his time in Stapleton, he says he was “a giant, tattooed, ex-punk rocker” who feared acceptance in such a white-collar community, but, “man, did these people accept me with open arms … my regulars were some of the most loving, kind-hearted people that you would ever meet,” said Ramos. “I want to thank them personally for being part of a dream I had.”