Denver restaurateur and consultant Cliff Young, whom many credited for helping put Denver on the national fine dining map, died May 28. He was 76.
From 1984 to 1993, Young owned and operated Cliff Young’s on 17th Street. The French restaurant was famous for its elegant dining experience, superb French cuisine and, of course, Cliff Young, who served as the maître d’ of his eponymous restaurant.
“The current generation of Denver diners doesn’t know him,” said John Imbergamo, a restaurant consultant who operated Café Giovanni, a competing restaurant to Cliff Young’s. “He was a big deal in the development, the evolution in Denver dining.”
Gone are the days restaurants are named after someone at the front of house, Imbergamo said. Now the chefs are the stars of the show.
“He was just the ultimate in gracious hosts,” he said of Young.
Young’s son, Zachary, announced the news of his father's death on his Bar Red’s Facebook page.
“Some of you know he had some health issues this year... and I think he decided he had enough and was going to spend this special day with his late wife who passed a little over a year ago,” according to the post. “I love this man so much. He and I went through so many things together and my life is forever changed. He helped and taught and laughed and made people happy. He loved his daughter and three sons and two grandsons more than anything. He left behind many close friends and a beautiful legacy.”
Former Rocky Mountain News and 5280 Magazine food critic Thom Wise called dining at Cliff Young’s the ultimate in luxury.
“The restaurant was just unlike anything else then,” Wise said. “The service, the white table cloths, the strolling violinist. I’ll always remember his table-side service for salads and desserts. They weren’t the only ones to do that, but no one did it with the same flair and the same attention to detail. It was amazing.
“He brought French food to Denver in a way no one else had.”
Wise and well-known Denver singer Lannie Garrett opened Ruby’s nightclub with cabaret next to Cliff Young’s.
“He didn’t know what to do with it, and Lannie and I turned it into Ruby’s,” Wise said. “It would not have happened without Cliff. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.”
Wise said he “loved Cliff like a brother” and relished the times he got to visit Young and his wife, Sharon, in the Burgundy region of France where Young had an upscale bed and breakfast inn.
“That was an extraordinary experience as well,” Wise said. “He embraced the French lifestyle and French living to the fullest. He and Sharon knew all their neighbors. We’d go to the markets and he would know the shop keepers names. The shocking thing was how beautiful his French was. He was fluent.”
Young continued his consulting business, Relevance Restaurant Consultants, from 2012 on. He operated CY Steak at the Diamond Cabaret topless club in Denver. He also helped Zachary start Bar Red, and continued to consult him on operations and food.
Wise remembered Young as down to earth, extremely knowledgeable, but never flaunting it.
“He never tried to expound on his knowledge, but he loved sharing it,” Wise said. “He really opened people’s eyes to what was out there.”
Young seemed to have written his own epitaph on his LinkedIn profile:
“My life has been guided by three passions: the love and art of sincere giving, acquiring and sharing knowledge, and the pursuit and attainment of the highest quality and authenticity in all endeavors.”