Founder of Aspen’s popular Mother Lode restaurant passes away

Bruce Polich left his mark in ski town after first landing here in 1959

Bruce Polich at the Mother Lode building where he opened his popular Aspen restaurant in 1959.

Bruce J. Polich, who among many other endeavors started The Mother Lode restaurant in Aspen in 1959, died earlier this month at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver where he had been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19. He was 97.

Bruce moved his young family from California to Aspen in 1959 because he felt “the action was there,” and also fell in love with the beauty of Aspen, according to his son Thomas Polich. Bruce was a freelance writer and filmmaker, pioneering promotional ski films for Sports Illustrated, Aspen Highlands Ski Company, the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and the Aspen Music Festival.

“While living in Aspen, he pioneered the first promotional ski films with Tony Gauba when few had even heard of Aspen,” Thomas said this week. “We have one of the films on CD with Stein Eriksen in 1960. My father filmed with scenes of Aspen Highlands ski instructors, patrol and night life. He was often at the vanguard of political activism/leadership in Aspen. He had a strong interest in and affection for his fellow man, especially those less fortunate.”

Continuing to work in film and media, in 1959 he founded the Mother Lode restaurant (spaghetti, meatballs, salad and garlic bread for $1.25). The Mother Lode became an Aspen icon and attracted locals and celebrities for 59 years. The Kennedy family were regular guests in the winter. He sold the restaurant about 1972, Thomas said.

In the mid-1960s, Bruce was the executive secretary of the Aspen Chamber and Visitors Bureau, establishing the first hotel reservation system in the country for Aspen hotels. Thomas said his father left Aspen for Washington, D.C., after his peaceful protesting of the Vietnam War led to a confrontation with the Town Council where they demanded his resignation as a “poor reflection” on Aspen and Snowmass Resort.

In 1968, Bruce moved his family to Washington, where he served as public relations director for United World Federalists, an organization dedicated to coordinating world laws and international interest in environmental matters.

He returned to Aspen in 1969 to continue running the Mother Lode restaurant. In 1970, sensing opportunities in yet another “up-and-coming mountain community,” Thomas said Bruce moved the family to Steamboat Springs, where he founded and operated the Cameo Restaurant. He was instrumental in helping start the Cameo Players, a local theater and improv group who performed in a small theater that Bruce installed in the second story of the restaurant.

Born May 17, 1923, in Walsenburg to a coal-mining family of Croatian/Slovenian ancestry, Bruce moved to Denver in 1930 and attended North High School, leaving before graduation to assist in family income during the Great Depression at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Hugo. He ski trained in Steamboat Springs and joined the Army from Steamboat during World War II, serving as a Radio and Signal Corp. technician in California. After returning to Colorado, he obtained his GED and a BA degree in journalism from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Polich died Feb. 1 in Denver.

Bruce and Em had four children while in California: sons David and Tom and daughters Maria and Laurel. The family plans to hold a small service in Aspen sometime this summer, COVID permitting.