Denver's mayor ends long run as restaurateur

DENVER John Hickenlooper, who cited his restaurant experience during his successful campaign to become mayor of Denver in 2003, has exited the business by selling his 40-percent interest in seven local restaurants.

The sale last week of his stake in Wynkoop Holdings, named for the Wynkoop Brewing Co. restaurant he opened in 1988, ends Hickenlooper's 19-year career in the business.

His interest was sold to management and some employees of Wynkoop for a price that Hickenlooper did not disclose. However, local newspapers reported that the mayor, now in his second term, would net between $5 million and $10 million in the deal.

Hickenlooper's opening of Wynkoop Brewing Co. helped to spark a revitalization of lower downtown Denver. He bought up more restaurants and brewpubs to form Wynkoop Holdings, which now has seven concepts, including the Wazee Supper Club and The Cherry Cricket.

Wynkoop Holdings chief executive Lee Driscoll said about a dozen restaurant managers, head chefs and other key executives and longtime employees would be invited to buy shares in the company.

“Philosophically it’s what I believe and consistent with what John believes: that ultimately the employees ought to own the company,” Driscoll said. “That will lead to the best performance of our individual restaurants.”

Hickenlooper started as a dark horse candidate with no political background when he ran for mayor in 2003. He campaigned that his experience as a restaurateur qualified him to run the city. He was re-elected in 2005 after briefly considering running for governor as a Democrat.