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The menu of coffee and cocktail drinks the Arvada Eggshell has been known for is still scrawled on the chalkboard — but inside, chairs and tables are stacked in a corner. Booths are dismantled and mugs and dishes stacked on portable carts.
A sign, posted in the darkened window, informed customers that the eatery — on the corner of Olde Wadsworth and Ralston Road — had closed permanently due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
“It was like losing a child,” Arvada Eggshell owner Jay Soneff said of making the tough decision to close after 30 years.“Every day between my family and staff, we were always thinking about how to make it better. The Eggshell was a big part of our lives.”
Soneff has owned the building the Eggshell was housed in since the 1980s and thought it was perfect for a breakfast spot. At the time, The Eggshell was the top breakfast eatery in the Denver area with spots in Cherry Creek, downtown Denver and Littleton. Soneff approached the owner about bringing one to Arvada.
Eventually, the Littleton store closed and Soneff paid to have the restaurant relocated to Olde Town Arvada. Soneff operated the Arvada Eggshell for about a year before he bought it in 1988.
“It wasn’t planned out to get into the restaurant business, but it was exciting,” Soneff said. “I was fortunate enough that the people who worked here were really good and they had a proven concept.”
Business kept growing for the Eggshell, and Mary Van Doozer, who is now retired, joined the team as a managing partner.
“She gets a lot of the credit for building the restaurant for what it was,” Soneff said. “She was the lady at the front door every day. The community loved her.”
The community also loved the food.
“The kitchen was always the key,” Soneff said, adding that for most of the 30 years, the same core staff ran the kitchen.
On a Saturday, the Eggshell would serve an average of 600 people with many customers making special orders. But Soneff said even on those days, the kitchen staff knocked out 15-minute ticket times.
But after loosing key kitchen staff, finding good help in the kitchen became a challenge.
In December, Steve Mancuso the second in command in the kitchen suffered a fatal heart attack and died. Mancuso had worked in The Eggshell kitchen nearly the entire time it was open in Arvada.
A Facebook post about the eatery’s closure described Mancuso as “an absolutely wonderful guy, a guy who loved his Steelers, a guy who when you came in the back door you could hear him singing in an exaggeratedly loud howl `Rooooooxxxxanne!’ ” The post called him The Eggshell’s “steadfast.”
When Mancuso died, Eggshell leadership didn’t know how they would replace him. And in the eight months since, they haven’t, Soneff said.
Another key kitchen employee left the business shortly after.
“When we lost Steve, it was such a chemistry change in that kitchen, we all thought we would get through it,” Soneff said. “But it was tough to recover from that.”
Mark Shafer — lead cook and kitchen manager — was shouldering the gaps in the kitchen, Soneff said, sometimes working 70 hours a week as the only cook. It was too much for one person.
The past four months of business, Soneff said, business was booming putting more and more pressure on the kitchen.
The eatery hired new cooks, but they couldn’t handle the speed to meet customer expectations or they didn’t show up when scheduled, Soneff said.
Customers started to complain.
“It sounds funny — successful to the death,” Soneff said. “But it really came down to, we didn’t want to start slipping. We didn’t want to turn into a restaurant that’s going to fail because they’re bad.”
The afternoon of Aug. 7 Shafer called Soneff with the bad news of another hard-working kitchen employee giving notice. That, Soneff said, was the final straw.And he decided that would be The Eggshell’s last day in business.
The abrupt closing was posted on the Arvada Eggshell Facebook page, which generated an outpouring of comments.
“I just assumed the Eggshell would be around forever,” Arvada resident Lisa Greim wrote. “Olde Town is changing fast. I understand the economic pressures, and I love some of the new places, but to lose Ophelia’s and the Eggshell in the same summer breaks my heart.”
For Soneff, what makes closing The Eggshell tougher is the community in Arvada.
“This was a happy place,” he said, while sitting in the emptyeatery onOlde Wadsworth, his first time back since closing day. “The families, the clientele, friendly people — I’ll miss that.”
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