Restaurant dream becomes Sure Thing at Willits
March 20, 2014
Scott Picard thought he had a sure thing in the fall when he moved back to the Roaring Fork Valley with his family and opened a restaurant at Willits Town Center. Four months later, it sure looks like he was right.
Picard's Sure Thing restaurant draws a steady mix of retail clerks, construction workers and office folk during weekday lunches, and it's a magnet for families with kids and couples out for an evening date.
He's built the "better burger" and craft beer place purely by word of mouth and with high visibility in the Parkside building of bustling Willits. Sure Thing is a few doors down from Starbucks.
Picard provides proof that a person can succeed when they switch directions in a career and pursue their passion. He started his working career as a bus boy at a long-gone Aspen restaurant in the early 1980s. A love of skiing lured him to High Alpine restaurant, where George and Gwyn Gordon recognized his talents as a "barker" — the person who collects orders from customers and barks them out to the cooks. It takes a certain flamboyance to do it right, and an ease with people. Picard possesses both.
“I’m here seven days per week. We’re as blue collar as our customers.”
Owner, Sure Thing restaurant
Nevertheless, he got out of the restaurant business when he left Aspen for the real world. He owned and operated a graphics business in Los Angles, commuting back and forth from Hawaii. By 2005, he was ready for a change and yearned to get back in the hospitality industry. The recession nixed the idea of getting into hotels, but Picard had an opportunity to acquire a 380-square-foot kitchen that soon made its mark by offering gourmet tacos sold out of a window. Word-of-mouth soon had hordes coming to the small commercial area where the taco stand was located. Customers would pester the other operators about the whereabouts of "The Window." The restaurant gained a name by default.
"That's when I knew I was probably born to be in food hospitality," Picard said.
The taco stand evolved into Sure Thing at Lahaina, Hawaii. The restaurant was known for its high quality, grass-fed beef from cows raised on Maui.
Scott and his wife, Tammy, decided in 2013 that they wanted to move to the Roaring Fork Valley to raise their girls. They closed the Maui restaurant and set their sights on Willits. It's the latest entry into what Picard calls the "better burger category." It includes The Grind, in Glenwood Springs, Fat Belly Burgers, in Carbondale, and CP Burger, in Aspen.
Picard said he never seriously entertained thoughts of opening his restaurant in Aspen. Offseasons are too brutal, he said, and rent would make it impossible to serve a $6.95 burger.
Picard vowed well before he opened that Sure Thing would be affordable — as well as clean and comfortable with delicious food. Unlike many restaurant operators who discover they can't keep prices as low as they planned once they open, Picard has kept to his word. The menu features a slightly larger-than-quarter-pound burger with grass-fed, no-hormone beef from 7X Ranches in Hotchkiss. It remains priced at $6.95.
The restaurant keeps it simple. There's a turkey burger, veggie burger, fries and side salads. An Asian Noodle Salad with chicken provides variety and a lot of value at $11.95.
"The burger will always be the hallmark," Picard said.
Sure Thing also features craft beers from Colorado. Later this spring the restaurant will devote all of its taps for one month to the beers of Roaring Fork Beer Co., a new brewery opening this month in Carbondale. "We've hitched wagons," Picard said.
Sure Thing will be the only place where Roaring Fork Beer Co. brews will be available between Carbondale and Aspen, at least for the time being. Picard plans to keep it on tap. He likes the idea of working directly with local suppliers. Fresh buns come from Louis Swiss Pastry in Aspen. Picard is especially proud of the perfect bun-to-burger ratio. The patty doesn't get lost in the bread at his joint.
The food is prepared in a kitchen behind the counter where customers order in full view of the seating area. Picard believes most diners want transparency. They want to know the source of their food and how it's prepared. It's reassuring, he said.
Chances are a customer will find Picard at the grill whether it's 6 p.m. on a Thursday or 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. "I'm here seven days per week," he said. "We're as blue collar as our customers."
He's got a staff of eight full-time and three part-time managers and hourly employees. Picard said he pays his staff higher than standard wage because the restaurant doesn't allow tipping. He figures customers appreciate paying what they owe for the food and not calculating a tip. The "tip" is actually a return visit.
"If you enjoyed your food, come back," Picard said. "That's more important to the staff than a tip jar."
It's guaranteed he will slip out from behind the grill and mingle with customers, collecting their feedback as well as their stories. He decided to offer pickles at the encouragement of one customer. He also decided to offer wine at the urging of several. A taste test occurred earlier this month to determine what was preferred.
Now that spring is around the corner, Picard said it's time for Sure Thing to blossom. He will add patio seating and occasionally will offer music. Customers will be able to grab a burger and go to the adjacent park. He's also got a plan to make the interior atmosphere homier.
His goal is to create a gathering spot rather than just a burger joint. Based on the experience of the past four months, that seems like a sure thing.