Making their move: Humbles plan to build restaurant at prime riverside site in Basalt
Free Range Kitchen eyes relocation in November
Nearly five years after starting their own restaurant in Basalt, Steve and Robin Humble are preparing for another big move, though one that will only take them about a block away.
The Humbles have a contract to buy land at the Basalt River Park property just west of downtown. They will construct their building this summer and plan to transfer their Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar to the new site in November.
The Humbles, longtime veterans of the Roaring Fork Valley restaurant business, opened Free Range on Two Rivers Road in December 2016.
“We’ve worked so hard and our goal has never changed, and what this feels like is it’s a reward for many, many, many years of hard work,” Robin said.
They will move to what they believe is one of the top restaurant spots in the entire valley, comparable to slopeside in Aspen or Snowmass Village. The new site will be positioned to overlook the public park alongside the Roaring Fork River. The town of Basalt will work over the next two summers to complete the park.
The new space will have 3,000 square feet of interior space compared with the current 2,300 square feet. It also will have a 1,500-square-foot deck that looks southerly toward the Roaring Fork River and easterly toward the band shell and “great lawn” that are main components of the park. Parents sipping cocktails or dining will be able to watch their kids playing on hay bales or in water misters that will be included in the park amenities.
Robin said they look forward to being part of a project designed to help revitalize downtown Basalt.
“We also believe in the whole investing in Basalt,” she said. “We already feel like we’ve brought a lot of people to Basalt with Free Range.”
The fact that the Humbles are ready to make the move as the nation slowly emerges from a pandemic is remarkable. Last year at this time, buying land and developing the space was unfathomable.
“I’m the numbers guy,” Steve said. “Last year at this time, in April, Robin looked at me and said, ‘Are we going to survive this?’ And I said, ‘If we don’t get a summer season that’s a meaningful summer season we’re probably out of business.’”
The 2019-20 winter wasn’t spectacular. Then in mid-March the bottom fell out when Colorado went into lockdown to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. Once public health agencies gave the OK to reopen at reduced capacity later in the spring, the Humbles figured business would see a steady but slow increase.
“And of course the whole local community proceeded to have the busiest summer we ever had,” Steve said. “I certainly didn’t anticipate it.”
Robin added, “The day we opened our doors, when they said we could open, our patio was completely full. We had no idea that was going to happen.”
Tim Belinski, who is developing the river park private property with partner Andrew Light, had approached the Humbles some time ago about potentially taking the restaurant space. When the issue was first raised, Steve said he respectfully declined because Free Range was so new and still building its reputation. But with more than four years of successful operation under their belts, the Humbles revisited the idea with Belinski and Light early in 2020. Then the pandemic hit.
“I told them, ‘We can’t give you any answers now. We don’t even know if we’re going to survive,’” Steve said. “I kind of put it on the backburner.”
But after the wildly successful summer, the idea was revived again. The Humbles worked with First Bank and are pursuing a Small Business Administration loan tailor-made for small businesses that are aiming to buy land to develop a building where they can transfer the operation or buy a building for the transfer.
The deal isn’t sealed yet, but the Humbles expect they will be able to finalize the purchase within a few weeks when their loan is approved. They were slightly nervous about discussing their plans before the loan is secured, but community gossip helped force their hand.
“The word started sneaking out,” Steve said. They wanted to tell their own story.
Along with the property will come the exterior design completed for Belinski and Light by CCY Architects of Basalt. The Humbles are now working with F&M Architects of Snowmass Village on the interior. It’s tricky because the space is a triangle, Robin said, but the architects have created good use of the space and a flow. FCI Constructors will construct the building.
Grading and utility work is scheduled to begin in May. The building will take shape later in the summer. Free Range Kitchen will operate as usual at its existing spot in summer and fall. Their lease is up in their current space in September, but Steve said landlords Robert and Debra Ritchey have been great to work with on an “exit strategy.”
The Humbles will add a pizza oven at the new site. Otherwise, the restaurant will remain similar. They currently plan to offer lunch and dinner seven days per week, May through October, and cut back to dinner-only for the winter months.
“Essentially what we’re doing is transferring our operation from here to there,” Steve said during an interview in the existing restaurant.
The name will remain Free Range Kitchen, though Robin is kicking around some tweaks.
“The only thing with the name is we might add ‘on the river’ somewhere. ‘Wine bar’ might come out and ‘on the river’ might go in,” she said. “Is that official? No. It’s one of the things you talk about when you’re trying to fall asleep and there’s 6,000 things on your mind.”
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Basalt resident Melinda Fouts recently was chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals.