The iconic Popcorn Wagon at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Mill Street — to some, a popular place to seek a quick lunch or late-night snack — is expected to open again after undergoing more than a few starts and finishes over the past few years.
Aspen commercial real estate broker Karen Setterfield, of Setterfield & Bright, recently confirmed that Jaysen Chiaramonte and Max Schoenfeld — two natives of Los Angeles who had been running Mill Street Melts in a small, portable wooden shack on the Hyman pedestrian mall, just a stone’s throw from the Popcorn Wagon — are going to reopen the red wagon soon. An exact date is not known.
“It came up kind of suddenly,” Setterfield said last week. “We thought they were going to do both (Mill Street Melts and the Popcorn Wagon), but then they decided they couldn’t do both, and they went for the Popcorn Wagon.”
The Popcorn Wagon, which most recently specialized in hot dogs, gyros, snacks and sodas, has been closed since the start of the fall off-season. Most recently, it was operated by Craig Cordts-Pearce, owner of the adjacent restaurant Above the Salt. Cordts-Pearce shuttered the restaurant following the 2013 summer season, and with that closure, the Popcorn Wagon fell silent.
Mill Street Melts, which specialized in panini-style cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate, tomato soup and other quick treats, opened in mid-December in the same small building occupied by Red Fox Yogurts during the summer season. In fact, Chiaramonte and Schoenfeld had an agreement with the proprietors of Red Fox Yogurts, which holds the lease for the space, to operate Mill Street Melts during the winter season.
That agreement recently was broken, according to Noah Annes, one of two partners who launched Red Fox Yogurts last summer. Annes and Schoenfeld are cousins. Annes said Tuesday that although he is “disappointed” in Schoenfeld’s decision, he is moving forward.
Since he and yogurt-shop partner Rom Hirss hold the lease on the building that housed Mill Street Melts — and they are responsible for the monthly rent — they have decided to open their own late-night food spot in the small building for the time being. They will convert it back to a yogurt shop in May or June, Annes said.
The new shop, which opened in time for Presidents Day weekend, is simply called Red Fox and features bratwurst, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. Annes and Hirss are being assisted by former Pacifica restaurant chef Barclay Dodge.
“Two weeks ago we got a call from (Chiaramonte and Schoenfeld), who said they wanted to move over to the Popcorn Wagon,” Annes said. “When that happened we sort of settled everything up with them. And then we teamed up with Barclay Dodge and got everything up and running in a week.”
Chiaramonte and Schoenfeld could not be reached for comment this week. Annes said it’s his understanding that they wanted to move into the Popcorn Wagon to test their restaurant concept in a well-known space where they could get a longer lease.
For now, Red Fox will be open late nights only, from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., on Wednesdays through Sundays.
“We wanted them to stay,” Annes said of Mill Street Melts. “I was excited about working with my cousin and giving him a shot. We were pretty disappointed. We tried to do everything we could to keep them in there through the winter season because we’ll be back with frozen yogurt for the summer. We’re trying to make the best of the situation.”
Setterfield said Chiaramonte and Schoenfeld went through a lot of work to clear a path that would allow them to reopen the Popcorn Wagon.
“The worked on this all day, every day, for like 10 days, and we didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” she said. “They met with the city and the (utility departments) and had to figure out how to handle this and that. It was huge.”