Aspen restaurant scene gets Social |

Aspen restaurant scene gets Social

Denise Walters (left) and Tommy Tollesson (right) are gearing up to open a new restaurant on Hopkins Avenue, along with their chefs, Eric Bailey (inside left) and Drew Scott (inside right). Social, specializing in small plates, will be located in the former location of R Cuisine and Range. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” Drinking and dining this winter on Restaurant Row has the makings to become a social event.

At least that’s what the owners of a new restaurant called Social are hoping. Three business partners have combined their talents, and have purchased the lease and assets from Rob Ittner, who gave up on R Cuisine to focus on his other restaurant, Rustique.

Social ” to open in the two-level space where R Cuisine was formerly located on Hopkins Avenue ” will feature global tapas, small plates designed for sharing. The menu will have flavors from around the world ” Asia, South America, Europe, America and plenty more. There will be between 25 and 30 selections on the menu.

“It’s a new concept for us and a new concept for town,” said Tommy Tollesson, co-owner of Social, who also owns and operates Elevation, a popular restaurant and bar next door to where Social will be.

Tollesson, who has operated Elevation for seven years, was looking for someone help to run the business side of things at the restaurant so he called on longtime friend Denise Walters, who had been living in New York.

“I needed someone more organized than myself,” Tollesson said. “Elevation has grown. … The numbers have almost doubled in two years.”

Then the opportunity came to take R Cuisine over.

“He was looking to get things done, and with two restaurants there’s a lot to be done,” said Walters, who has been involved in entrepreneurial endeavors in Aspen for nearly 10 years. She will be running the day-to-day operations at Social and overseeing the company’s business affairs.

The third partner in Social is Gunnar Sachs, also a part-owner in Elevation. At Social, Sachs will serve as a financial backer and advisor, similar to his role at Elevation.

The three restaurateurs will be equal partners when it comes to making decisions about the restaurant. How the company will be set up financially is still being hashed out.

“We are still looking at the structure,” Walters said.

The priority at the moment is getting the restaurant ready for the grand opening in December.

Elevation’s corporate chef, Drew Scott, and Eric Bailey, who is the chef of cuisine at Social, are creating Social’s menu. Bailey most recently was the chef at R Cuisine. Sneak previews of Social’s menu samplings will be available at Elevation as soon as this week to test the product with customers.

The concept of small plates might be new to Aspen, but tapas has become a popular way to eat throughout the country, particularly in large markets like New York and Los Angeles.

“It’s a real social way of eating,” Tollesson said.

Aspen restaurants have honed in on the bar menu concept, which has been popular with tourists and locals for decades. Small plates add up to one large bar menu.

“A lot of places are incorporating [small plates] into their menus,” Tollesson said, adding that sushi bars are the closest thing to a similar product.

Visitors at Social can sit down for dinner in the dining room or hang out in the lounge, on the second floor. The menu will be available in both places. The lounge will be open until 2 a.m. daily and is targeted to a slightly older crowd ” what Tollesson calls “an adult alternative to a nightclub.”

Tollesson said Social will have the most interesting specialty drink menu in town ” they’re bringing in a local mixologist to help create the menu, which will have drinks designed around champagne, infused vodka and much more. Many of the cocktails will be paired with the small plates. Tollesson also promises to have a large selection of wine by the glass.

Tollesson and Walters have recruited John Proctor to be Social’s general manager. He’s a veteran restaurateur from New York City and San Francisco.

Because Social will be in the same building as Elevation, Tollesson and Walters hope the two restaurants will feed off each other instead of compete.

“Every restaurant is competition but we’re hoping in the long run it will draw attention to Elevation and draw attention to the building,” Tollesson said. “The more people that go to Social, the more people will go to Elevation.”

The flavors and dishes at Social will be completely different than Elevation, which Tollesson characterizes as “contemporary American” with an international influence.

“Social is going to be fun and festive with really good food,” Tollesson said. “We’re going for a fun and vibrant feel.

“People can come in and eat for three hours or just come in and get a bite to eat.”

Ittner has successfully run restaurants in that location for 16 years. R Cuisine lasted only for the summer, and before that the restaurant was called Range. Prior to that, it was Renaissance, which Ittner also operated. He wished his predecessors luck.

“I think they’ll do well there,” he said. “They have the advantage of being in the same building.”

Both parties declined to say how long much is left on the lease, but Tollesson said he and his partners plan on “staying around for a long time.”

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