Iconic Denver institution Breakfast King closed its doors for good on Jan. 3. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The King is dead. 

Denver’s iconic Breakfast King diner, at the corner of South Santa Fe Drive and Mississippi Avenue, closed its doors for good Monday, longtime server Lori Prien confirmed. 

“My boss called me yesterday and said not to come in because we’re closing up shop,” said Prien, who has worked at the eatery since 1989. “I’m in shock. I’m 55 years old – I don’t want to start at another restaurant.”

Opened in 1975, Breakfast King often landed on local “Best Of” lists for its vintage decor, wood-paneled dining room, orange vinyl booths and voluminous menu featuring Greek, Mexican and American food. 

Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for decades, Breakfast King scaled back its hours significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Prien said business was still strong in recent months, but said supply shortages were making things difficult. 

“It’s been a nightmare,” she said. “Last week we were running out of meat, drinks, to-go boxes, everything.”

Hiring staff has been hard, Prien said. 

“There was just nobody coming in for applications,” she said. “In the old days we never had to advertise. We couldn’t find cooks. We’ve had ads up on Craigslist and a ‘now hiring’ sign in the window for the first time I can remember.”

Iconic Denver institution Breakfast King closed its doors for good on Jan. 3. (David Gilbert, The Colorado Sun)

Starting wages for servers were just under $10 an hour plus tips, Prien said, and cooks started at just under $20 an hour. 

Breakfast King received two federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, according to public records. One granted in May 2020 was for $159,739 and is listed as repaid, and another was granted in March 2021 for $223,632, but its repayment status is not available. Loan data indicated the restaurant had 22 employees.

Breakfast King drew ire online in its final months with a sign posted on the door that read: “WE ARE SHORT STAFFED. PLEASE BE PATIENT WITH THE STAFF THAT DID SHOW UP. NO ONE WANTS TO WORK ANYMORE.”

“Added this to my list of places to never go,” read a post on a Reddit thread about the sign that stretched to more than 900 comments. “Even if they take the sign down, they’ve just advertised they are the type of people I never want to support.”

Breakfast King’s owners did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the closure. Tom Andrianakos, the restaurant’s accountant, also confirmed the closure.

Prien said she adored working at Breakfast King. 

“It was such a joy,” she said. “You get to be yourself, you get to joke around, and the customers are from all walks of life.”

She mostly worked days, but said the real action took place on the graveyard shift. 

“One night this motorcycle club got into a fight with these cowboy dudes,” she recalled. “One of the cowboys went outside and drove his car into the club president’s motorcycle – but when he drove off, he left his bumper and license plate behind. The biker gang told the cops, ‘You better hope you find that guy before we do.’ You just had to laugh.”

Prien said she’s heartbroken by the restaurant’s sudden closure. 

“We knew it was a possibility, but they didn’t give us a chance to say goodbye,” she said. “We’ve had people who have been coming in nearly every day for years. Some of them, we were all the family they had.”

John Coyner of Castle Rock stopped by Monday and discovered the restaurant was closed.

“I’m stunned,” said Coyner, who said he’s been coming to Breakfast King for more than 30 years.

It’s possible another restaurateur could buy the restaurant and keep it operating, Prien said, but she’s afraid it will be sold to the highest bidder and redeveloped. The property is not currently listed for sale on real estate websites.

Breakfast King’s tables were still set on Monday morning. Staff closed up the night before not knowing the restaurant was closing for good, server Lori Prien said. (David Gilbert, The Colorado Sun)

Denver has lost several other beloved all-night diners in recent years. Tom’s Diner, along East Colfax Avenue on Capitol Hill, closed as pandemic shutdowns began in March 2020, following a protracted battle over whether to preserve its historic Googie architecture, a flamboyant midcentury modern style. The 20th Street Cafe closed the same month after 74 years in the Ballpark neighborhood. Denver Diner at Speer Boulevard and West Colfax Avenue closed in January, citing increased food and labor costs and decreased traffic.

Losing Denver’s diners means losing a piece of the city’s soul, said Bree Davies, who hosts the City Cast Denver podcast and was a longtime fan of Breakfast King.

“These spaces are so important to bridging the gaps of humanity,” Davies said. “At Breakfast King you’d see cops sitting next to punks, or construction workers getting ready for their shift sitting next to someone who had been out all night partying. There aren’t many places left where people of diverse economic statuses are close together. We take them for granted. We’re losing our community spaces. What are we going to do about that?”

David Gilbert

David is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. Twitter: @davidgilbert4u