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Food Matters: Lofty pursuit in the Miners’ Building

Aspen’s original kitchenware shop stays stocked for home cooks, pro chefs, and everyone in between

Amanda Rae
Food Matters
Dan Steingrube shops at the Kitchen Loft.

 

 

 

Fiesta-what?

Launched by the Homer Laughlin China Company at the Pittsburgh China & Glass Show in January 1936, Fiesta dinnerware is ultra-durable, “restaurant quality” and vibrantly glazed. By its second year of production, the company made more than a million Art Deco-style pieces in five original colors: Red, Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Green, and Ivory. Additional colors showed the trends of the times, beginning with pastels in the 1950s, then brighter shades followed by earth tones in the 1960s. At the end of 1972, Fiesta was retired after 37 years of production and became a collector’s item. Thanks to Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan, the brand was resurrected in 1986, using innovative, lead-free ceramic glaze. New Fiesta colors have been introduced (and others retired) every year since.

Fiesta’s official 2020 color, Butterscotch, is a cheery orange-yellow thought to spark optimism. 2021’s honoree, of 16 colors currently, veers in a different direction: Twilight is a “midnight sky” medium blue with violet undertones, just a touch darker than Lapis (2013-). Pre-sale begins May 15 for shipping on May 31. Fiestafactorydirect.com

I found the end of the rainbow: it’s in the Miners’ Building upstairs at the Kitchen Loft.

“This is the biggest collection of Fiestaware I’ve ever seen!” exclaims shopper Dan Steingrube, surveying a glossy prism of plates, bowls, platters, teapots, flower vases, and gravy boats in more than a dozen signature colors. The durable dinnerware has been a staple here since the store opened, along with the rest of the hardware and electronics emporium on Main Street, in 1976.

Like Steingrube, visitors to the roughly 1,000-square-foot space are often surprised that the Kitchen Loft stocks as many items, in multiples, as it does. That protocol keeps customers coming back, and this past pandemic year has seen sales jump to new heights.



“We were so off the charts with kitchen and housewares that (we) could not keep up with it,” confirms Miners’ Building general manager Jay Montano, on staff here since 1990. “Because of how many people were (in Aspen), staying here, cooking for themselves, private chefs. Cindy (Zajac), my buyer, (and) the other women try and keep up with it.”

While the team has seen demand spike in recent years for certain trendy products—SodaStreams, multicookers, air fryers—lately it has felt like a nonstop free-for-all. Merchandise from manufacturers has been back-ordered for months and U.S. trade disputes with China have only added to the frenzy.



“Several times we’ll get something in, and it doesn’t even hit the (sales) floor before it’s out the door,” Montano explains. This is true throughout the Miners’ Building, including in home improvement and sporting goods on the main floor and electronics on the lower level.

Considered the most comprehensive kitchen and housewares boutique in town, the Kitchen Loft sells close to 20,000 “units” (the entire building clocks in around 64,000). New shelving holds an epic jigsaw of small appliances, pots and pans, mugs, kettles, napkins, knives, and culinary doodads. There’s the full line of Schott Zwiesel crystal preferred by Red Mountain landowners to water kettles and hot plates for the intrepid Aspen Music School student, plus almost everything in between.


“We stock many different options,” Montano continues. “We don’t just have one (piece) going out. (Customers) want 20, 30. They’re buying sets.”

The showroom stays organized thanks to four longtime saleswomen, including Robbi Lewkovich, who started working at sister business Carl’s Pharmacy in 1976. (She and Montano together comprise 70 years of service at the Kitchen Loft; Zajac, who managed Carl’s cosmetics department for a decade beginning in the 1980s, has worked here for eight years). I find Lewkovich unpacking a box of two-inch-diameter white porcelain ramekins for tiny chocolate soufflés, a popular dinner party dessert. Property managers, it seems, have been prepping earlier for the summer transition.

Steingrube, visiting on a Friday morning from California (and a Fiesta fan, see sidebar, opposite page), is on the hunt for an aebleskiver, to make small Danish pancakes. “I always come in here looking for cast-iron,” he shares, due to the Loft’s wide selection.

Colorful, enameled cast-iron Le Creuset in all shapes and sizes is the big score. “We do keep lower-end stuff for people who want it,” Lewkovich notes. “Lodge is still big—that’s what I still use at home, all the time. You can take it camping.”

When the pandemic began last spring, local customers cleaned out the Kitchen Loft’s cast-iron supply in short order.

“Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell came in one day to outfit their camper,” Lewkovich recalls of June 2020. “Kurt kept putting stuff on the counter and Goldie kept saying, ’We don’t need that!’ They were having fun, talking about their trip.”

The picnic display

Montano pegs the average spend at the Kitchen Loft between $200 and $500, citing MVP goods such as Chilewich linens, Nespresso coffee systems, and Riedel wine glasses. Slow-burning candles and decorative air diffusers spill their scents in a corner up front; a floor-to-ceiling cookbook display sits in back. Shun and Wüsthof knives, among other brands, are sought by professional chefs.

 

“They want to touch it,” Montano says. “We’re seeing more and more chefs get them from us than online, because that’s key: feeling the product.”

Serious home cooks get a thrill upon finding seemingly every make and model of Cuisinart and Breville kitchen machines—including 13-cup food processors and cold-press juicers. The Vitamix A3500 Ascent Series Smart System Blender, top-ranked in 2021, might be the priciest purchase, ringing up at $600.

“We have this petrified wood,” Lewkovich says, pointing to a serving slab that looks as glossy—and feels as heavy—as marble. “We move things around all the time, and we get new stuff in.” When a British man inquires about “scissors, not kitchen shears,” Lewkovich reflexively points to the right of the register.

The Kitchen Loft, and the entire Miners’ Building, is an offshoot of Carl’s Pharmacy, founded catty-corner across the street by Carl Bergman in 1965. By 1974, space at the pharmacy to carry much more than toasters and spatulas was maxed out. That drove Bergman to design and build the Miners’ Building during an historic two-year process.

“We have two flights (below ground), where we keep our storage,” Montano says. “We were the first building to go that deep.”

The Kitchen Loft is accessible from the ground level by a dramatic spiral staircase that encircles an early-1900s steam-powered winch. (“If the mines ever flooded on Ajax, that was used to drop divers down, like an elevator,” Montano explains.) There’s also an original train whistle and flywheel, a testament to Bergman’s passion for steam engines as well as ranching and mining equipment. Bergman lovingly restored the latter for years at the Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum until his death, at age 85, in 2018.

Visitors climbing those corkscrew stairs might brace themselves for sensory overload. Patterned aprons hang from the railings and a wall clock mosaic announces entrance into the Kitchen Loft. Pass a shelf of more than a dozen pepper mills (Peugeot are prized) and a picnic display staged by Lewkovich commands attention from the ceiling. “This year, we know it’s gonna go really fast,” Montano quips of the picnicware.

Baking supplies have been hot since the pandemic started, employees say.

On the far right, the beloved “gadget wall” beckons with a tool for every task: rolling pins, pastry bags, peelers, avocado scoopers, egg separators, natural peanut butter mixers, even a snowflake ice cube mold. Apartment dwellers, enter at your own risk. Chances are, Lewkovich says, “We have it, if you’ve got room for it!”

Amanda Rae is the editor of “The Aspen Cookbook,” a fundraiser for local restaurant workers: AspenCookbook.com. amandaraewashere@gmail.com


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