Basalt’s Cafe Bernard celebrates 20 years
BASALT – The closure of two restaurants in Basalt last week made it easy to overlook a brighter bit of news in the beleaguered industry.
Cafe Bernard celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. French chef Bernard Moffroid and his wife Cathy, a baker, rolled the dice in 1990 and started something that many people thought might be too upscale for the town. “We were the first one with an espresso machine,” Bernard said with a smile.
Moffroid was working at Aspen’s Main Street Bakery when he met Cathy, who was a waitress there. While dating, they checked out the ramshackle location of a pizza joint in Basalt that was available for lease.
After contemplating multiple career options, including one in which Bernard could have been a personal chef for a women who split time in St. Moritz and New York, they decided to open the French cafe in Basalt.
Their timing proved perfect. In additional to building a loyal local clientele, Basalt’s growth as a second-home town and its emergence as a golf resort with the opening of the Roaring Fork Club provided more of the type of dinner customers Cafe Bernard targeted. Basalt eventually became a hot spot in the valley for restaurants.
“For the wheels to stop here, it took awhile,” Bernard said of the Basalt restaurant scene in general.
And they gained acceptance. Soon after the restaurant opened, a cowboy came in and ordered – giving rise to the restaurant’s slogan: “Cafe Bernard – Where cowboys eat croissants.”
Their recipe for success has always featured a lot of hard work themselves. They are anything but absentee owners, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cathy is in the kitchen just about every morning. She is a baker and cooks breakfast. Bernard takes over at night. Their team includes an employee who’s been with them all 20 years and another for 19. Cathy joked that she sees more of one of the waitresses than she does of Bernard.
Their longevity in the business prepared them for the tough times the recession has wrought. Cathy said there have always been business cycles. Business dropped during the first war in Iraq shortly after they opened, then again after 9/11. However, this is the toughest time they have experienced.
“It hasn’t been this quiet for this long,” she said.
Bernard said their business was down 15 percent last year. The town’s sales tax revenues show that restaurant industry sales overall dropped 14 percent in 2009. Overall sales for the restaurants with bars in Basalt are up 10 percent from December through May, compared to last year, so not all establishments are hurting. However, numbers are still well below pre-recession levels.
The tough times are taking a toll on eateries in downtown Basalt and throughout the midvalley. Restaurants on either side of Cafe Bernard closed last week. Butch’s Lobster Bar called it quits on Sunday; Basalt Bistro closed Tuesday.
Butch Darden opened a restaurant in Basalt last summer after nearly two decades of success in Snowmass Village. He said the diners never materialized in Basalt like he expected. He ended up closing both restaurants.
Basalt Bistro closed after reigning for 19 years as a popular destination under three different owners. The old Midland Bar and Grill was converted to a French bistro in 1991 by Richard Duddy. He eventually sold to Joseph Ciri. Jody Nobel took over last year. The Colorado Department of Revenue was prepared to seize the restaurant Tuesday for alleged delinquency on $14,592 of sales and withholding taxes. Ciri, who owns the building, stepped in and paid the bill.
Fatbelly Burgers, a popular hamburger joint in Carbondale, is negotiating to take over the lease at the old Bistro spot, and plans to open a full-service bar and restaurant in early September.
Bernard said he expects to reap a bit more business because of the closures on his flanks. “The pie is getting smaller,” he said.
But he and Cathy said Basalt’s restaurant industry and the community are better off when there are several thriving establishments that provide diners with choices.
“Competition breeds success,” Cathy said.
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