ASPEN " The French words Cache Cache may refer to a game of hide-and-seek, but loyal customers of the French restaurant have certainly found it.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Cache Cache Bistro has beat the odds in the cutthroat culinary world of Aspen where restaurants come and go as quickly as untracked snow on a powder day.
"We've all worked so hard to make it," said Cache Cache co-owner Jodi Larner. "In the first five years, 50 percent of restaurants fail ... Everyone can be a one-hit wonder. We've all seen that."
Cache Cache was originally named for its out-of-the-way location " downstairs in the corner of what is known today as Mill Street Plaza.
Cache Cache started in 1987 with eight tables. Today, the restaurant holds 90 people in the dining room and bar area, with another 75 in the summer when the patio is open.
Larner and her business partner, executive chef Chris Lanter, plan to expand the restaurant into a 2,000-square-foot space next door. Renovation will begin this summer and the new space will hopefully be ready by fall, Larner said. The addition will be used for larger bathrooms, an expanded bar area and possibly a private room for diners.
"We're busting at the seams after 20 years," Larner said. "This next renovation will really help our guests."
Cache Cache's interior has gone through several incarnations over the past two decades but has remained in its current state for about 10 years.
Cache Cache's humble beginnings started when former restaurateurs Marie Casanova and Philipe Mollicchi opened it in 1987.
"We opened when we were young and beautiful," said Casanova, who now owns Le Tub. "I go there all the time and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. It has progressed wonderfully and Jodi has done a fantastic job."
Coming from Takah Sushi, Larner started as a manager in 1989 and soon became a partner. Seven years later another business partner, Rick Hession, entered the scene. Lanter, who was executive sous chef at the Caribou Club, came on as executive chef in 2000, and he and Larner eventually bought out Hession in 2004. Now, Lanter and Larner are equal partners in the venture.
In the early 1990s, the bar was built and business at Cache Cache took off.
"We were the ones who started the bar menu," Larner said, referring to the popular Aspen tradition of offering smaller plates for half the price of the regular menu. "The response was crazy."
And it still is. The bar area is typically full from the time Cache Cache opens to the time it closes.
"It's a predominately local scene," Larner said, adding about 90 percent of the restaurant's clientele are return customers. The success has been so great that Larner and Lanter don't feel the need to advertise.
To what do the restaurateurs attribute their success? Good old-fashioned hard work.
"We are here six nights a week, both partners working in the front and the back of the house," Larner said.
They've also made a significant investment in the business by expanding the wine list to include 5,000 bottles and hiring Alex Harvier, a sommelier. The wine list is more than 100 pages long.
Lanter gives credit to sous chef Nate King and the rest of the staff, which has seen surprisingly little turnover. Employee tenure ranges from eight to 18 years, Larner said.
Lanter changes the menu periodically and looks for innovative ways to deliver a consistent product, using locally grown and organic food when possible.
"We're not complacent," he said. "The day you think you're good and you pat yourself on the back is when [you get in trouble]."
"Everyone has to be on the top of their game," she said. "You're only as good as your last meal."