City of Aspen considering three finalists as restauranteurs in former Taster’s Pizza |

City of Aspen considering three finalists as restauranteurs in former Taster’s Pizza

Ten applicants submit proposals for empty city-owned restaurant space

The city of Aspen is seeking a new restaurant operator in the old Taster's Pizza space by Rio Grande Park.
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen has culled a list of 10 applicants down to three finalists who are vying to become the operator of an affordable restaurant in space the municipal government owns on Rio Grande Place.

The 1,615-square-foot vacant space is the former home of Taster’s Pizza and has been empty since 2019, when the city renovated the building as part of its municipal offices build-out.

City officials have said they would like to have a restauranteur operational by this summer. The finalists’ submissions, which are not public because of proprietary reasons, are expected to be reviewed by Aspen City Council next month.

The finalists are Hunter and Megen Hlavacek, a mother-and-son duo who would operate the restaurant under the name “Hunter’s,” as well as Emily Kolbe, a longtime local who has co-owned and operated Brunelleschi’s for 15 years and is calling her would-be establishment “Rio Grande Place Restaurant” and Brendan Berl, who has been in the local hospitality industry for several years, is dubbing his new operation “Yogi’s.”

Kolbe said her vision for the space is to make it a breakfast and lunch, fast-paced bistro-style restaurant using locally-sourced food when possible. In the evenings, the space could be used for events.

“I’m excited and it’s been great working with the city,” she said on Friday. “If I’m lucky enough I’d like to service the local community and keep it affordable.”

Berl said his proposal includes an arcade-style area to serve as a gathering area for youth, who have very few options in town to hang out.

The food would be focused on sandwiches, salads, wraps and grab-and-go fare and average at about $14 per order.

“We can play with the menu as much as we want,” he said, noting he envisions seating for about 70 people between the indoor space and the patio.

Hlavacek and Lyons have previously said they’d like to create a community gathering place with music and good quality, affordable food.

The city put a request for proposals out in August on Bidnet, a platform government agencies use to seek bidders on projects and contracts. Submissions were due in September, and city officials have been reviewing the proposals since then.

The request asked that proposals include year-round services with daily lunch and dinner service. Some form of breakfast service and late-night bar service is possible, but not required.

Annual seasonal closures cannot exceed 28 days per year, according to the request for proposals.

The restaurant space, located across the street from Rio Grande Park, the skate park and the John Denver Sanctuary, has been a fixture of the Aspen local’s food scene for many years, serving the community with fast, reliable and affordable fare, and city officials would like to continue that tradition with a new tenant.

The city is interested in proposals that stay true to the history of the space, which has served locals, teenagers and visitors, as well as support a theme or presence that complements the programs and activities that occur at the nearby public spaces.

The restaurant also should be non-gourmet and family friendly, focusing on affordability and ease of access for all members of the community, according to the language in the RFP.

The city is willing to contribute up to $200,000 in hard improvements such as bathrooms, electrical sub panels and air handling units.

The space has been cleaned and prepped for a tenant to finish out. The city will deliver a four-wall space with full utility hookups, sound insulation, and basic finishes for floor, ceiling and walls.

The tenant will be responsible, unless otherwise negotiated during the selection process, for all additional kitchen equipment, furniture, thematic finishes, and other custom work associated with establishing a restaurant space.

The selected proposer will be offered a five-year initial lease with one five-year renewal period for a maximum of a 10-year arrangement.

Lease terms will be for a fixed amount each month, which has yet to be determined, plus percentage of gross sales or some combination, according to the RFP.

Proposers were asked to provide an initial-term per-square-foot rate in the proposal. Rates will include an annual adjustment to reflect fluctuations in the consumer price index.

Proposers were allowed to provide alternative income schemes in lieu of a fixed per-square-foot rate, either as a lower per-square-foot rate plus participation in gross sales, or as some other relative and relevant monetary source. Alternative payment schemes will be negotiated during the selection process.