Ash'Kara, an Israeli restaurant on West Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, served its last meal July 23, 2023. 'I’m very sad that closing became necessary,' co-owner Daniel Asher said. Credit: Lisa Schlichtman

The restaurant business is notoriously tough. It seems there is always one closing in Boulder, and another opening. The latest casualty is Ash’Kara, a two-year-old Israeli and Middle Eastern eatery on West Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, which served its last meal Sunday evening.

Co-owner Daniel Asher attributed the restaurant’s woes to multiple compounding factors, such as the impacts of Covid-19; difficulties hiring and retaining staff; soaring costs of ingredients; labor issues; and industry-wide rising prices, which result in people eating out less often.

Asher also co-owns, with Josh Dinar and other investors, Boulder’s popular River and Woods restaurant, Golden’s Tributary Food Hall and Barrio 75 in Ketchum, Idaho, under their Working Title Food Group umbrella.

“It was a challenge to open in a difficult climate for independent restaurants, trying to recover after being absolutely, brutally gutted from the Covid lockdown, and the resulting challenge of gathering socially,” he said. “It was a massive hurdle to overcome.”

“We crafted an excellent cuisine with a Middle Eastern global influence, a fantastic team, great culinary teamwork and a really delightful gathering space for the community,” Asher added.

But it wasn’t enough. It was difficult to hire, train and then keep staff in the tumultuous labor market following the Covid upheaval, Asher added.

David McGuire, a long-time Ash’Kara server, who left several months before the closing, agreed the restaurant was experiencing those problems but he also pointed to poor employee morale, which he said came from dissatisfaction with hours, pay structure and issues with management that resulted in an unsuccessful attempt to unionize workers.

He was among several workers spearheading the union drive, partly to demand transparency in how Ash’Kara’s “fair wage fee” was divvied up among employees.

Ash’Kara was one of a growing number of restaurants, both locally and nationally, that had added a standard 20% service charge to every customer bill. 

Ash’Kara’s sister restaurant, River and Woods, states on its website that the fee — levied independently of any server tips that customers leave — “allows us to reliably and equitably compensate everyone working so hard to keep you happy, healthy, safe and nourished during your time with us.”

McGuire said, however, that after the fair wage fee was added, he and others actually received far less pay than before. “The rough math just didn’t add up,” he said. At least three other Ash’Kara workers alleged they had their hours cut and were temporarily blocked out of the restaurant’s scheduling software program after they started talking about forming a union. 

Asher said his role at Ash’Kara primarily encompassed culinary, food sourcing and “kitchen-side” issues rather than financial matters, so he doesn’t know the precise formula for splitting the service fee. But he noted the intent is for “both front-of-house and back-of-house employees to win. It’s a way of getting everyone to a place that feels more equitable.” 

Those behind the unionizing drive withdrew their petition in late January, without a vote, when it became apparent they didn’t have enough support. McGuire said part of the problem was the high employee turnover — typical of the industry — that made it hard to keep enthusiasm going for the union. And as a “right-to-work” state, Colorado employees cannot be required to join a union as a condition of employment. 

Asher said that because restaurants can’t predict the number of customers on any given day, employee shifts are “constantly getting adjusted and modified.” The scheduling software app Ash’Kara used allowed employees to swap shifts and sign up for extra hours, but he said “things get [technically] weird with systems all the time.”

Asher said he couldn’t comment on the union turmoil because “some dust is still settling,” but “there were definitely some challenges regarding that concept.”

Boulder Reporting Lab sought comment concerning the employee claims from Dinar, who oversaw front-of-house matters, but he was out of town on business and said he didn’t have time to respond.

Before withdrawing their petition to form a union, the workers who said they had their hours cut filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging retaliation and other unfair labor practices under federal law. According to its website, the board has not reached a decision on the case. Depending on the outcome, the board could require Ash’Kara to back pay the workers for lost wages.

“We were very saddened by these allegations and having a breakdown in communication that led our front-of-house to go that route to resolution,” Asher commented. “We want to be a culture of integrity and family.”

The restaurateur took one aspect of Ash’Kara’s difficulties wholly onto himself: “The decision that I made, based on my culinary vision, of supporting local farmers and ranchers” by buying locally produced ingredients when possible. “It’s more expensive to support high-quality sustainable ingredients than to buy commodity products.”

Asher praised those suppliers, whom he called “part of a thriving and interconnected ecosystem.” 

“I’m very sad that closing became necessary,” Asher added. “Restaurant operations can go from hard to impossible in a very short period of time. The line between success and failure is very narrow.”

Sally Bell is a former major city newspaper reporter with many years of experience, who in retirement now freelances occasionally because she misses it. She has lived in Boulder for more than 20 years.

Join the Conversation


  1. Ugh. Knowing nothing of labor issues, we enjoyed this restaurant when we went. Always seemed busy. Sigh.

  2. The issues stated are for sure a problem, but also, a brief look at reviews and having been there myself reveals another significant reason this restaurant closed:

    The food was not good, and it has to be on Pearl, where costs are high. Other places are thriving when the quality is there.

    Their other restaurant, River and Woods, was wonderful pre-COVID, but food quality went way down more recently. I hope it’s temporary there because the environment of River and Woods is so nice.

  3. Bummer, as we loved this restaurant.

    Also, regarding fair wage fees, I would imagine the impact they would have would be straightforward: The distribution of what would otherwise be tips to servers to other members of the team, so the net impact is that some roles will make more (cooks, greeters, runners, etc.) and some will make less (severs / bartenders).

    1. I can’t comment on the quality of food at this restaurant, but I say good riddance to any restaurant that charges a “fait wage fee”. The imposition of such a surcharge often comes as a surprise to customers and as such is deceptive pricing. It also proclaims to anyone paying attention that this restaurant doesn’t pay living wages to its employees.

      Apparently, the true cost of labor, rent, and ingredients has gotten so high that preparing and serving restaurant meals costs more than restaurant owners believe they can charge. Maybe we are entering an era economically in which for most people dining out is a luxury reserved for special occasions, as was traditionally the case.

Leave a comment
Boulder Reporting Lab comments policy
All comments require an editor's review. BRL reserves the right to delete or turn off comments at any time. Please read our comments policy before commenting.

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