K’s China, a lightning rod for controversy with the Boulder police and the city council for years, has closed its doors, its owner citing the city’s scrutiny. Now, the “problem” business is looking to change its image as NoEntiendo, a South American restaurant that aims to be a more mature business, although the new owner says the pressure continues.
“Certain people are coming after us,” says Kyle McNamara, the new owner of NoEntiendo and former bar manager of K’s. “They have kind of fabricated a lot of things that we’ve done wrong that we haven’t, and we’re hoping to go to the liquor board and show them that it’s absolutely ridiculous, because most of the things are made up and we’ve actually changed things and have been doing everything right.”
McNamara is taking the torch from his former employer, K’s China owner Bo Mai, who recently sold the University Hill restaurant and bar, alleging the city had targeted his business.
“We feel like the city of Boulder and its employees just manipulate the law,” Mai says. “They can do anything according to their need, and this is not good, it’s illegal. We are not able to face this trying organization, so we decided to quit, and by doing that we lost $70,000 just on the sales contract.”
Mai says that he plans to sue the city for the amount he lost.
McNamara says he jumped at the opportunity to reinvent the restaurant into “a fusion of Colorado steez and South American swagger,” as NoEntiendo’s Twitter profile says.
NoEntiendo looks to start offering its new menu on June 1 and, at present, the restaurant will continue with the liquor license restrictions that it inherited from K’s.
K’s was required by the Beverage Licensing Authority (BLA) to report its monthly food sales to prove the company was making at least 15 percent of its gross profit from food, and those requirements, along with a few other smaller restrictions, including an outdoor noise limit for music and required ID checks, still apply to NoEntiendo. NoEntiendo’s hearing with the BLA to transfer K’s liquor license was continued from May 15 and will now happen on June 19; that hearing could change the conditions on NoEntiendo’s license.
Carlene Hofmann, the Boulder Police Department’s liaison officer for the BLA, says she understands McNamara’s position, but says the city expects NoEntiendo to adhere to them.
“I understand that Kyle feels really targeted, but these are the conditions placed upon him and he agreed to them, and so he can try, but he has to follow those special conditions,” says Hofmann. “As for special conditions, yes, he’s the only one who has special conditions placed upon him and unfortunately he has to follow those to the letter. He can’t just say, ‘Well, I’m trying’; he has to follow them regardless.”
McNamara seems willing to work with the city to get his business up and running, with the remodeling of the restaurant’s environment as a major goal. McNamara says he’s looking to create a new, more welcoming atmosphere for permanent Boulder residents and get rid of the stigma that was attached to K’s of being a place for college students to party.
He says K’s was one of the businesses that contributed to the segregation between CU students and permanent residents on the Hill, and that since the switch over to NoEntiendo the customer diversity has already started to increase.
“We’ve immediately started to see families come in, we’ve started to see older people coming in, and it’s just great to watch them interacting with the college students, because it’s not like the college students are going anywhere, and it’s just a much more laid-back, open environment,” McNamara says.
The potential for McNamara and NoEntiendo to overcome the negative “college party” stigma of K’s and serve the community, both permanent residents and college students, has city officials optimistic, yet still a little skeptical.
“It would be wonderful to have a new restaurant that caters to a larger clientele, but I don’t know anybody that went to K’s China to get Chinese food,” says City Council Member Ken Wilson.
Wilson, who has lived on the Hill for 18 years, says that the best way to create more cohesion between permanent residents and students on the Hill from a business perspective is to create a more diverse marketplace that meets the needs of the larger neighborhood within walking distance.
“We need more diversity of businesses,” Wilson says. “We need a grocery store, we need more high-end restaurants, we simply need more variety.”
McNamara says he really wants to create something new and different for the Hill and he seems serious about NoEntiendo tackling the segregation issue, which he says he has seen his whole life in Boulder.
Ruben Ciau, a manager at NoEntiendo, poses with two orders of Central American churros | Photo by Joseph Wirth
“There are a lot of older people on the Hill that were afraid to come here before,” McNamara says. “And now we want them to be able to come up here and socialize with the younger people and have them hang out too and not be afraid of a drunken rager.”
NoEntiendo’s menu offers a large variety of South American foods with 22 different appetizers/street food items, including food indigenous to several Latin and South American countries, as well as four main entrees and eight different desserts that are all South American style.
The original K’s Chinese menu will also still be available for delivery.
NoEntiendo is still in the process of redesigning and reaching out to new customers, but city officials still have yet to voice their views on what role they see NoEntiendo having for the Hill neighborhood.
“I feel like we have an overabundance of some types of businesses on the Hill, and late-night alcohol places are to some extent focused on that,” Wilson says.
McNamara and NoEntiendo will continue to operate normally until their liquor board meeting, but their restrictions still have them in the same situation that caused Mai and K’s to leave Boulder.
“I am sure that they have made other changes, but you still have to abide by the conditions, and they haven’t done that,” Hofmann says, referring to issues with checking IDs at the door.
But Mai argues that the strict conditions that were placed upon K’s and now on NoEntiendo are unjustifiable.
“There is no right for them to ask the restaurant to [check] everybody, including the food and to-go customers,” Mai says. “Nobody does that. If you go to any full-service restaurant in Boulder, you walk in and nobody checks your ID; and they forced us to check ID [at the door] and they suspended our business because we didn’t check the ID of [everybody].”
If you want to try NoEntiendo’s new South American flavor, remember to bring your purse or wallet, because two forms of I.D. are required for everyone to enter the building at all times, and as friendly as they are there, they’re serious about it.