Food Matters: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Changes
MOVES ON MAIN STREET
If anyone knows about change in Aspen, it’s Bill Dinsmoor. The longtime owner of Main Street Bakery closed the joint on Oct. 28 after nearly 28 years of operation.
“Main Street Bakery-type businesses, Little Annie’s, and others that offered a modest-priced meal in an environment that was approachable and comfortable for a variety of people — [not] a dive bar — they’re becoming dinosaurs,” says Dinsmoor, who is enjoying retirement with his wife, Jane. “The emotional side of me says it’s sad. The realist side of me says this is the direction the world is going.”
No doubt about it: the rising cost of doing business in Aspen is making it difficult for mom-and-pop eateries to survive here. At stake are local meeting spots.
“I’d like to think we created a comfort level not just for food, but for gathering, sitting around with multiple cups of coffee and chewing the fat about whatever’s on peoples minds,” Dinsmoor says. “We had great conversations. Certainly I’ll miss that — that’s hard to replace.”
While Dinsmoor hopes that the Aspen City Council will consider mobile food trucks as viable purveyors of reasonably priced food in the future, he’s happy to be out of the restaurant industry.
“You know what the biggest change is? We don’t set the alarm in the morning anymore!” Dinsmoor says. “We stay up later. I’m not concerned with someone calling me at four in the morning and they can’t light the oven or the bread mixer is not working. Having time to spend with neighbors, family, and friends…we’re much more available to go out and have fun.”
RECENTLY I made the mistake of checking Facebook first thing in the morning, where I was notified of a photo posted by a friend, probably as she was fixing for a lunch break back in Boston. Very little on the site surprises me these days, but this image — stamped “10 YEARS AGO,” courtesy of Timehop — was unsettling. It’s not cringeworthy, though. Instead, my high-school pal and I are holding up plastic gold medals, faces flushed on a much-deserved team win at our hometown brewery’s Trivia Night. My hair is darker now but I’ve got the same side smirk; Jessie has the same dazzling grin, too. We’re old enough to buy booze but not wise enough to have skipped town yet, mountains of mistakes waiting to be made in our 20s ahead. It’s a charming blast from the past…and a startling reminder that times have changed, really.
I know I’m not the only one who feels as if change has steamrollered through life in Aspen, this fall in particular. Main Street has been a blocks-long construction zone for ages and gosh, it’s a balmy November! By the time you read this, We the People will have voted one of two circus ringleaders into the Oval Office — a monumental change, no matter the outcome. News of yet another beloved eatery closing? Nothing out of the ordinary, folks.
Certain buildings and even blocks of town have become almost unrecognizable compared to my early days here. And then, two weeks ago, Main Street Bakery closed for good. On its final day of operation in almost 30 years, the Thursday before Halloween, I passed the crumbling tan building with pale-pink trim while heading downvalley. I felt a sudden urge to pull over and find a parking spot. So I did.
When I entered the restaurant, now for the last time, I was pleased to see my elderly neighbor, Sylvia, sitting at the same table I first sat nearly five years ago, on one of my first mornings in Aspen. It was February 2012, and though I’d heard plenty of grumbling about sparse snowfall, a storm had dumped enough white stuff to make the colorful cabins (where the Jewish Community Center is now), look like gingerbread houses. I’d walked the few blocks east from the St. Moritz Lodge, where I was staying until I could find an apartment in this town full of strangers. Coming from another small town, anonymity at breakfast, however brief it would last, was refreshing.
“I thought it was over and I missed it,” Sylvia said now as she pulled on her jacket. I nodded in agreement. I’d almost driven by my chance to say goodbye! But here we were, in our first conversation outside of the confines of our apartment complex, talking about change.
The dining room was packed, as it always was, and the energetic buzz made it seem like any other day, except for a few visual clues that this was, in fact, the end: A multicolored HAPPY RETIREMENT garland on the wall, cabinet shelves cleaned of curios and collectibles, and lots of dramatic farewell wishes to owner Bill Dinsmoor.
I only had to wait a minute or two to sit at “my” table, the two-top by the door beneath a sign declaring, “We do not have wifi — talk to each other!” A server dropped a menu and was back in a flash with a cup of hot coffee. A bus boy snaked through the crowd, refilling water carafes and clearing dishes. Forks and knives clinked on plates, cups tapped against tables, chatter hummed, and next to my table the front door wheezed open and closed, as if Main Street Bakery was taking its final breaths of crisp mountain air.
Like Johnny McGuire’s, Little Annie’s, and even McDonald’s, the closing of Main Street Bakery represents just another low-key ending to a long survival. A quaint mom-and-pop diner operating inside a bakehouse, Main Street Bakery earned its reputation as a town hub — fast-paced, no-frills, and friendly in a hurry-up-and-order kind of way. No more. Aspen is changed.
Out on the street after breakfast, I run into a magazine colleague I haven’t seen in a while. She, too, is on her way inside, “to get one last doughnut!” she says.
Alas, the doughnuts! There goes the neighborhood, indeed.
If fear of change doesn’t place among the top 10 phobias plaguing 6.3 million Americans according to the National Institute of Mental Health (public speaking, death, and spiders rank highest), why do we resist it? Fear of the unknown? Not quite. Psychologists explain that the element at work is not dread, but recognition that a new direction implies condemnation of the way things were done before.
“Unconsciously we all believe that longevity = goodness,” writes Heidi Grant Holvorson, PhD., in the Huffington Post. “Change isn’t simply about embracing something unknown — it’s about giving up something old (and therefore good) for something new (and therefore not good).”
The average American might choose to stay comfortably stuck rather than face the uncertainty, awkwardness, and inevitable struggle of embarking on a new path. Then again, this is Aspen, a place largely unconcerned with the habits of such foreign creatures as average Americans. Aspenites comprise a strange stew of hedonistic adventure-seekers, some who made a detour on a cross-country road trip and never looked back (or ahead, as the case may be), others who got roped into a good idea and made a great life from it, and still others who may have traded in a sluggish former existence to go Aspen-extreme…only to wake up years later with a hangover, wondering where their 30s went.
“The CHANGE is the shift from FEAR to LOVE,” says Jenny Emblom Castro, founder of Living Wholly, a wellness event company based in California and partner in the first-ever Lead with Love retreat held at the Aspen Meadows recently. She’s explaining the mission of the four-day festival of yoga, health, spirituality, and creativity founded by Gina Murdock, who also started the Aspen Yoga Society.
“This shift is occurring all around us even if it doesn’t appear to be on the surface,” Emblom continues. “Think about the awareness of the food system, holistic health, the rise in yoga/meditation/healing arts, electric cars, sustainability in various areas of life, eco-travel, and the increase in the wellness industry…My intention is to cultivate connection and provide information for people to make small shifts in their lifestyle if they’re feeling ready.”
Emblom notes that 100 percent of proceeds from the four-day Lead with Love festival benefited Aspen City of Wellbeing, a nonprofit founded by Murdock, who celebrated her 40th birthday by launching the conference to introduce the new organization’s mission. Turning your personal milestone toward the public good — that’s a champion of change.
Sure, there’s a lot of change happening in Aspen lately. Some of it — favorite haunts closing, friends moving downvalley, a seemingly slow-to-start ski season — is tough to swallow. But if the internet is any indication, we can all take comfort in knowing that we may be better off than most other places in the U.S. today. The first four Google hits for “change in Aspen” point to fall foliage.
Amanda Rae would face her fear of donating blood for an Elevation wasabi Caesar with grilled shrimp. email@example.com
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The new Bud Light Music on the Mountains series is hosting DJs and bands for mid-day pop-up concerts for skiers and snowboarders.