ASPEN - Where there once was an Aspen bagel shop, there will be one again.
Upper Crust, the El Jebel eatery that serves bagels plus a whole lot more, will bring its fare to Aspen's North Mill Station, the complex that contains Clark's Market and, once upon a time, was home to Bagel Bites. Upper Crust owners Steve Smith and Susan DeCillis, midvalley business partners who purchased the Bagel Bites commercial bakery operation in Basalt in 2007, plan to open Upper Crust II in the spot once occupied by the former bagel chain. The space was most recently home to Sabra's Deli, which closed after a five-year run.
Smith, a former Aspen police sergeant who has been the face of Upper Crust in El Jebel for the past six years, will take over management of the Aspen restaurant when it opens early in May and work in the new location most days. DeCillis will remain in charge of the bakery, keeping the late-night/wee-morning hours of a baker. The operation turns out 1,000 to 2,000 bagels daily (DeCillis quickly mastered her predecessors' bagel recipes) along with breads, pastries, cookies and other desserts that are distributed throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
"Every day out of the kitchen, we probably send out to 60 or 70 wholesale accounts, depending on the season," Smith said.
Upper Crust products are sold by various purveyors from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and occasionally are shipped elsewhere.
A Chicago resident who spends time in the valley recently ordered four dozen onion bagels, sent to her in an overnight delivery, according to Smith.
Smith and DeCillis took over and expanded what used to be Bagel Bites, a family-run enterprise founded by Bud and Connie Hickman. It included a bakery and small chain of restaurants. Smith and Decillis assumed ownership of only the bakery and the El Jebel eatery, renaming both Upper Crust. The restaurant serves a variety of breakfast and lunch items, including soups and sandwiches, plus sweet treats, coffees, homemade ice cream and more. It's open into the evening during the summer months, and Smith said he plans a similar, seven-day-a-week operation in Aspen.
In El Jebel, Smith greets his regulars by name, fulfills special orders for those who don't see the sandwich they envision on the menu board and opens the restaurant walls to local artists who can exhibit and sell their work without paying a commission to Upper Crust.
An attractive lease arrangement, plus an ample kitchen in the Aspen space that is ready to go without additional investment, made the pending expansion enticing, according to Smith.
"The Aspen store will give us the opportunity to offer more," he said, acknowledging the opportunities its on-site kitchen affords.
The El Jebel restaurant, in Orchard Plaza near City Market, so far has held on in the midvalley despite the entry of Whole Foods in the nearby Willits development, changing the dynamic of doing business for local, independent establishments, Smith said. The growing number of commercial spaces available in the Basalt area without a corresponding jump in population has made things challenging, he conceded, and Upper Crust has had to make adjustments.
"The economic pie is the same size, but the slices are getting smaller," Smith said.
"We just want to keep moving forward. In spite of the recession, in spite of Willits Marketplace opening up, we're still managing to swim with the sharks," he said.