State of the state: Entertainment

It’s well known that Donald Rossa owns and runs Dazzle Jazz Restaurant & Lounge, Denver’s iconic jazz club on Ninth and Lincoln streets – known by regulars simply as “Dazzle.”

What many may be surprised by, however, is that Dazzle’s been profitable all 15 years it’s been in business, an astonishing feat in most jazz club circles. Lucky for the genre’s musicians and aficionados, Dazzle’s luscious live tunes hail from its halls 364 days a year.

In 1998 Rossa convinced his pal, Miles Snyder, to invest in his vision, when few people frequented anything on the Lincoln Street strip. Rossa gave up his house, car, and other more lucrative career opportunities so he could realize his dream of a combined restaurant and live music venue. “I like people to come together as a community,” says Rossa.

And come together they do. Jazz giants like Anita O’Day, Freddy Cole and Lou Tabakan have graced the club’s stages, as well as local talent like Lynn Baker and the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra.

But it took Rossa’s restaurant management experience to exact a dazzling business formula.

“When we first opened we were the popular martini bar,” Rossa says. “Then we added a 20-item, $3.99 food menu and that got to be popular.”

But the music room wasn’t an immediate hit, so Rossa and his team lined up performers only on Fridays and Saturdays and paid the acts without any cover charge. A 2003 overhaul with a new stage inspired more live music on more nights.

“That caught on … and then we won awards and kept pushing,” Rossa said.

In the meantime, he invested $100,000 of his own and established an “ethos that music needs to be paid for by the consumer.”

Voila. Denver can’t get enough of Dazzle and neither can jazz talent with acts like Grammy Award-winning Roberta Gambarini on the July calendar.

When asked why his club generates more than $1.7 million in annual revenues and why he has practically no employee turnover, Rossa is quiet and graceful. “You’re only as good as your people,” he says.