Campo de Fiori: Still growing after 25 years |

Campo de Fiori: Still growing after 25 years

Campo de Fiori owner Elizabeth Plotke and artist James Johansen, who helped renovate the Aspen restaurant, take a break in the restaurant’s new community room. Campo celebrates its 25-year anniversary with a party at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

This week is turning out to be one for Aspen celebrations, and it has nothing to do with the holidays or big-time sporting events on the local hills.

Hundreds of well-wishers were shoehorned into the Hotel Jerome ballroom for Klaus Obermeyer’s 100th birthday celebration Monday, and Thursday, a different locals party is on tap for another milestone — the 25th anniversary of the quaint Italian restaurant known as Campo de Fiori.

It was actually Oct. 14, 1994, when the eatery opened its doors in some subterranean space on the 300 block of East Hopkins Avenue, years before that stretch of the downtown Aspen street came to be known as “Restaurant Row” for its lively dining scene.

“But we were counting Dec. 5 so that we could do something really nice for the town,” said Campo de Fiori owner Elizabeth Plotke.

By really nice, Plotke means all menu items will be half off; the same deal will apply to bar drinks. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

“Anywhere anybody sits in the whole restaurant … we’re going to do 50 percent off for what anybody orders that day,” she said. “I know it’s something we’ll take big losses on, but it’s been the most amazing 25 years and we are such a local restaurant.”

Twenty-five years doing business in Aspen is no small feat considering the litany of obituaries for locally owned downtown restaurants in recent years: Little Annie’s. Main Street Bakery. Boogie’s Diner. Rustique Bistro. Et cetera, et cetera.

But while those and other eateries closed for various reasons — landlords raising the rent, owners wanting out or buildings being demolished — Campo de Fiori recently completed a remodeling and expansion project that included the addition of what Plotke calls a “community room” with a lower-priced, casual menu. As well, the renovation included a new bathroom, new floors, a new facade for the kitchen and new artwork throughout the interior. The community room, which flanks the bar area, added another 400 square feet of space to the restaurant.

Interior artwork was done by James Johansen of Long Island, New York.

“Town has gotten, we think, so expensive that we just want to make it approachable for all of us in town who make a local living,” she said of the community room, where prices for pasta dishes — $16 will buy a lasagna meal, for instance — rival those of another defunct Aspen restaurant locally heralded for its affordable menu: Taster’s Pizza.

Campo has a bar menu, but it’s only available during the summers and falls, Plotke said. The community room’s menu, however, will be available year-round, she said.

“For us, the person who comes in three times a week and gets a glass of wine, is — I don’t want to say more important — but that’s our local clientele,” said Plotke, who grew up in Michigan and moved to Aspen in 1992. “There are people who come to town and spend a fortune on one night, but just having this philosophy that this is a local restaurant and a community restaurant, and that can mean second-home owners, too.”

The 30-person staff also has a family feel, Plotke noted. She sang praises for Campo’s head chef of 20 years, Giuseppe Garofalo; David Ellswieg (more commonly known as “Campo Dave”), who’s been general manager for 19 years; assistant manager Duan Chaffey; bar manager Chris Michael; and waiter Zoran Seistic, the longest running employee with 24 years of serving diners. Those five employees have nearly a century of combined experience working at Campo.

“It’s very important to them that the restaurant is at its highest standards,” she said.

Plotke’s affinity for Johansen’s artwork at the restaurant is equally as glowing; she especially gets excited about his murals depicting pear trees, where the fruits look “good enough to eat,” she said.

“I’ve never painted anything like this,” said Johansen, whose friendship with Plotke goes back some 30 years. In fact, Johansen helped opened Campo 25 years ago with his artistic vision. He had been living in Aspen at the time.

“We definitely talk about the vision, but so much of it, I’d say 95 percent of it, comes from his vision, and he has this way of creating this whimsy, this romance, this richness, this comfort that is like no one else,” she said. “He just has this amazing way of expressing himself.”

Johansen said he’s been inspired during his most recent stay in Aspen, collecting some of his artistic ideas during his walks up Smuggler Mountain and other landscape. Evidence of his work is on display at Campo’s newly finished interior murals, as well as some canvas work on its walls.