DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Gene Tang builds 1515 Restaurant on a lifetime of experience

Alumnus Gene Tang is the man behind Denver’s popular 1515 Restaurant. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

This profile could have ended up very differently. It could have been about a guy who was so successful early in his career that he just spent his days in the mountains doing what he loved: fly fishing.

But it was not to be. Gene Tang (BSBA ’71, MBA ’75) couldn’t say goodbye to his first love: opening and running restaurants. Really good restaurants.

Food and cooking always have played a role in Tang’s life. He has fond memories of growing up in Hong Kong, where his parents ran a boutique hotel and restaurant.

“I was reared in the hospitality business,” he says.

Tang says he learned early on that the core value of a restaurant is to “treat everyone with respect. Taking that extra step to personalize each guest’s service was ingrained into me during my childhood.”

The Tangs immigrated to Chicago with the coming of Chinese rule to Hong Kong, and Tang attended the prestigious University of Chicago Lab School (the same school President Barack Obama’s children attended).

Tang could have chosen many other elite colleges, but when he learned about some professors leaving Michigan State to teach at the University of Denver, he decided to give it a look.

“I fell in love with the school, the city and Colorado’s casual, friendly vibe early on,” he says.
After graduating, he stayed in Denver and ended up building six successful restaurants, including Cafe Potpourri, the Green House Restaurant, and Oscar Bar and Grill.

“They were successful enough that I seriously considered retirement,” he says.

But he was lured back into the business in 1997, when he had a chance to buy the property at 1515 Market St. in Denver. “I could see the possibilities,” he says.

That same year, he opened 1515 Restaurant, spotlighting modern American cuisine with advanced techniques.

“We combine molecular gastronomy with basic French technique,” Tang says. “We were the first restaurant in Denver to be certified in sous vide cooking.”

Sous vide, French for “under pressure,” is a slow cooking process in which food is vacuum-sealed, then placed in a 127-degree water bath for six hours to enhance tenderness and flavor.

Among the items on 1515’s ever-changing, seasonal menu are Colorado striped bass with four beans succotash, Meyer lemon foam, hearts of palm, carrots and olive oil-poached potato; braised Kurobuta pork with butterscotch foie gras porridge, Swiss chard, cranberry terrine, herb salad and red wine gastrique; and Maple Leaf Farms duck with mac and cheese, edamame pesto, orzo, arugula salad, cherry vinaigrette and sugar plum demi.

The restaurant has taken home many honors, including a spot on Channel 7’s A-list, OpenTable.com’s Diner’s Choice Award, Colorado Environmental Leadership’s gold level award and a three-diamond rating from AAA. Its wine list (more than 450 bottles) has been awarded Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” since 2001.

But of all the accolades, Tang says his proudest moment came in 2010 when he and his team were invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York, a distinct honor in cooking circles. Tang explains the James Beard House only invites the top chefs to show off their skills.

“Cooking at James Beard House,” he says, “is like going to the Academy Awards for the restaurant business.”

Tang credits DU for giving him a foundation for his success in restaurants.

“I learned how to live and deal with many types of people, and I made many lifelong, dear friends,” he says. “That’s priceless. And I enjoyed my time at DU so much so that I went back for my MBA.”

Yes, Tang still has a passion for fly fishing and gets to the rivers on occasion. But mostly you’ll find him at 1515 with a big smile.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *