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May 13, 2014
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Zheng will be replaced by Thai restaurant in Basalt

Zheng Asian Bistro is leaving Basalt after a successful 12-year run and will be replaced by an authentic Thai restaurant that is branching out from Aspen, owners of both establishments said Monday.

Zheng opened in Orchard Plaza near the El Jebel City Market in 2002 and has built a loyal following. But partners Mike Mercatoris and Henry Zheng have three additional restaurants in Glenwood Springs that demand their attention.

“We’ve just been spending a lot of time in Glenwood,” Mercatoris said. He is also an owner in Zheng at Glenwood Meadows; Grind, a gourmet burger joint in downtown Glenwood Springs; and the Riviera Super Club in Glenwood’s restaurant row.

According to Mercatoris, it was a tough decision to leave Basalt because the restaurant has been so successful. While Basalt sales tax revenues are down overall by nearly 7 percent for the first quarter of 2014, Zheng’s sales in Basalt soared by 12 percent over that period, he said.

Zheng is tucked into a 1,100-square-foot space that creates a warm atmosphere for diners and a convenient location for customers ordering carry-out food.

The partners listed the business for sale with Aspen commercial real estate agent Ruth Kruger in hopes that she would know someone in the industry looking to expand downvalley. That’s exactly what happened. Kirk Coult and chef Paula Rungsawang, partners in Bangkok Happy Bowl in Aspen, were considering an expansion to the midvalley when they learned Zheng’s operation was for sale. They are buying the operation and taking over the lease.

Coult said the Bangkok Happy Bowl next to Clark’s Market draws some customers from the midvalley, but it’s not always convenient for them to eat there. He and his partner figured their unassuming Thai bistro would be popular with midvalley residents and visitors, he said. Their Aspen location will remain open.

The Zheng space is about the same size as their restaurant in Aspen, Coult said. It is a convenient spot that offers free parking in a high-traffic, central location, he said, and the space has a successful history as a restaurant and “great operators.”

The Basalt restaurant will feature Rungsawang’s recipes, as does the restaurant in Aspen. All the chefs at both restaurants are Thai, which ensures it is authentic.

“Hopefully we’re bringing in something a little different to town,” Coult said.

Zheng’s last night in Basalt will be tonight. The sale is scheduled for Thursday. Coult said Bangkok Happy Bowl would open sometime in June, roughly 30 days after the purchase.

Mercatoris said he feels an authentic Thai restaurant is perfect for that space. Five separate buyers who envisioned opening a taqueria in the space approached the Zheng partners after they listed the operation for sale. They resisted because they felt the midvalley already had enough restaurants in that niche.

Mercatoris said the fact that there is a Zheng restaurant in Glenwood Springs as well makes the closing in Basalt easier to handle.

“I would be very, very, very sad if this was the end of Zheng,” he said. “It’s not the end. It’s a transition.”

He hinted that he and his business partner have additional ventures in mind but said they aren’t ripe to reveal yet.

The change from Zheng to Bangkok Happy Bowl is the second turnaround of a restaurant space in less than a month in Basalt. Frying Pan Kitchen in the Riverside Plaza building in downtown Basalt was replaced this month by Eurasia, which offers foods from Europe and Asia as well as a sushi bar.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated May 13, 2014 12:00AM Published May 15, 2014 07:51AM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.