Another one bites the dust: Mi Chola set to close doors in 2025
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and for Aspen’s popular local hangout Mi Chola, that end is Oct. 1, 2025.
Since 2016, locals have come to know and trust Mi Chola as an affordable familiar spot designed specifically with them in mind.
“We opened this for the locals and the working class,” said co-owner Adam Malmgren. “We wanted there to be an amazing place for the ski instructors, the boot techs, the working class to come hang out with us and have fun. We wanted a place that maintained some of the vibrant, rowdy energy that this town has been known worldwide for. It’s been the utmost important thing for us; there’s been no option to vary from that. That is who we are.”
Malmgren, along with co-owner Darren Chapple, have roots buried within the building’s foundation that go way back before the name “Mi Chola” hung above the entrance.
Back in the late ’90s, when the business was still called The Cantina, Malmgren and Chapple both worked as wait staff, eventually working their way up to operating the restaurant for several years before taking it over for themselves when the previous owners declined to renew the lease.
“For us, this is heart and soul,” Malmgren said. “The first couple of years, it was scrappy getting opened. I lived here. You couldn’t walk in this building and not see me. It’s hard — my staff, it’s like they’re all family. It really has felt great being able to be a part of the community and offer a gathering place for people.”
He moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2000, with Chapple roughly a decade behind him. While the two would each take their turns at moving away for the purpose of establishing “careers,” according to Malmgren, it never took more than a few months for either of them to decide that “The real world sucks, I’m going back to Aspen.”
The two would eventually open a second restaurant in Northern California — La Rosa Tequileria and Grille — in Santa Rosa, where Chapple still lives and operates the business to this day.
With Mi Chola’s lease set to expire in 2025, negotiations began early to try and determine what a new lease might look like moving forward, with a five-year option at market value.
After initial discussions, Malmgren said the building’s landlord, Lowell Meyer, came back to the table stating that for Mi Chola to continue, on top of the existing rent, he would be requiring 100% more as well as 10% of the net income. Malmgren said that even without the 10% increase of the net income, the 100% more would never be feasible for the style of restaurant that Mi Chola is and has been since they first opened their doors in 2016.
While Malmgren said he understands the people who own the building are businessmen first and foremost, it’s hard to deny the feeling that in some sense they’re no longer wanted.
“The local favorite, affordable options are a dying breed, and it simply comes down to the cost of rent,” he said. “It goes back to the landlords being businessmen, and if they can ask such high prices, why wouldn’t they? To a degree, I understand; but at a certain point, the town’s going to get choked out.”
When asked what’s changed, Malmgren will sit back, take a deep breath and begin to reflect on a time that sounds like something made of fiction or from a movie long forgotten. A time when “lifties” could hold court at local bars with corporate CEOs and international tourists hanging on their every word. A time when the spirit of camaraderie was alive and well on every street corner and the heartbeat of the town was aligned with the community as opposed to the almighty dollar.
“When I moved here, I was in my early 20s, and the environment of the bars and restaurants in Aspen is absolutely what made me fall in love with the restaurant business,” he said. “Some places were fancy, some weren’t; but no matter what they were or weren’t, they always had an area for the locals. They weren’t doing it to appease us; they genuinely wanted us there, and it was a community. All of the restaurants (staff) ran around, and after work, we’d get together and have drinks at a different spot. Every place was different and had their own personality; that’s what was so amazing about it to me. I feel like a lot of that charm has died in a lot of places. I say it’s getting sterilized. It just feels like it’s losing so much of its soul. I don’t want to play the corporate card, but it’s different. When you can operate your business as a writeoff, it’s just different.”
But not all is lost.
Malmgren is currently in the works of opening another establishment where the former Lucci’s was once located under Cooper Street.
Earlier this year, he partnered with Brad Smith to open La Raza in Carbondale, and based on the success of that location, the two have teamed up once again in an effort to bring Aspen yet another local watering hole, The Buck, with hopes of opening before the end of this year.
Smith, former part-owner of Aspen’s The Red Onion, knows all too well about the trend of local favorites coming to a close. While he, a valley resident of more than 30 years, is the first to admit that COVID-19 certainly played a part with the “Onion” closing its doors in 2020, he said there’s still no denying that Aspen, for better or worse, is undergoing a transformation.
“The town’s kind of struggling to find spots for people to go, and it seems like it’s spot-free of places to live, as well,” he said. “But Aspen’s changed a number of times over the years, and I feel like this is just another chapter.”
And as for the book of Mi Chola, sadly, so it seems, it is approaching its final chapter. But until the town has officially turned the final page, he said he intends to continue booking events and hosting parties along with live music several nights a week.
But most importantly, he intends to have as much fun as possible, following the same very business model the restaurant was founded on.
“I imagine the world would have to be on fire for the landlord to lower his options,” he said. “I don’t foresee that anything could happen. I hope to think we’re a pretty loved establishment, but there’s no way that we could be more loved than Little Annie’s or The Red Onion was or Bentley’s or Cooper Street. We’re going to live everyday like it’s the last. If you wanna come in and have some fun, get rowdy and have great food, come hang out with us.”
To reach Jonson Kuhn, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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