Restaurant industry vets ready to open Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar in Basalt

Robin and Steve Humble are eager to open Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar in Basalt. They are opening their own restaurant after years working in the industry in Aspen and Basalt.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

For Steve and Robin Humble, the time has finally come to open a restaurant of their own.

The longtime veterans of the Roaring Fork Valley restaurant industry are scrambling with last-minute preparations to open Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar in Basalt. They are opening Dec. 16 in the Riverside Plaza building in a vacant spot most recently occupied by Cuvee.

The Humbles have been in the Roaring Fork Valley restaurant industry a long time. Steve most recently ran food and beverage for 16 years for the Roaring Fork Club, the private golf and fishing club in Basalt. Robin ran the club’s catering business for 10 years.

Their prior experience included running the highly regarded Renaissance restaurant for acclaimed chef Charles Dale.

“I want to be a wine destination. It’s easy to say. We have to prove it.” Steve Humble

The timing was right, they said, to give it a go on their own. They are opening a farm-to-table restaurant not because it’s trendy, but because that’s their lifestyle.

Steve said the farm-to-table label is actually a bit ridiculous. Every restaurant is serving foods off a farm or ranch. What will make Free Range different from most, he said, is that it will serve regionally grown food whenever possible and everything it serves will be free of hormones and antibiotics.

Teamed with perfect chef

Robin has become meticulous about researching the source of her family’s food and ingredients in what they eat after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and successfully treated last year.

“We decided we needed to clean it up. If not for us, for our kids,” she said, referring to their two teenagers.

Now they want to share the passion they have at home at their restaurant.

“It’s clean food and it’s locally sourced as much as possible,” Steve said.

They said they have found the perfect chef in Flip Wise, who has worked at the Little Nell Hotel and Meat & Cheese, among others. They said Wise has worked on farms and ranches to get a feel from where food comes from. He has picked up the valuable skills of a butcher. They will be buying and using whole hogs and beeves.

“His whole reason to be on Earth is exactly what we’re doing,” Robin said.

Both Robin and Steve will run the floor of the restaurant. Steve will be “the wine guy.”

He has immersed himself in wine, figuratively speaking, during his food-and-beverage career. He organized domestic and international wine tours for Roaring Fork Club members. They became so popular that people were jockeying for the limited reservations.

He also helped found a highly rated wine brand in 2007. The emphasis in Free Range’s 1,000-bottle cellar will be craft, handmade wines rather than those mass-produced.

“I want to be a wine destination. It’s easy to say. We have to prove it,” Steve said.

They also will have craft cocktails and craft beers.

Wood-fired grill

They said their menu will be wide-ranging.

“It’s almost drawing on global influences,” Steve said. “We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. Every time you specialize, you narrow your audience.”

They will have one of the few, if not the only, wood-fire grills in the valley. They are even taking an organic approach to fuel. They will burn fruitwood from Paonia in the grill.

Their price point will be low enough “where people can eat more than once per week,” Robin said.

They will only be open for dinner, at least at first. They aim to expand to lunch next spring.

Factors coming together

While downtown Basalt took its lumps during the recession, the Humbles feel they are part of a rejuvenation that’s underway.

Aspen Skiing Co. opened an office on the floors above Free Range Kitchen. Skico anticipates more than 60 employees eventually working out of that space. The Aspen Community Foundation relocated its office and staff of 14 to a space it purchased right around the corner from the restaurant. Pitkin County government temporarily relocated its offices to Basalt and plans a longer-term presence for some departments.

The Humbles also are well-known among the Roaring Fork Club crowd and anticipate drawing heavily among owners and visitors from there during the summer months. Wise also has a dedicated following.

First and foremost, the Humbles are aiming to create “a fun, community restaurant,” Steve said.

Don’t fence me in

The interior was coming together by the hour last week. Beetle-kill wood will dominate the east wall on the left as diners enter the establishment, as well as under the bar. The vinyl planking for the floor has the appearance of distressed wood. The walls behind the bar and above and below the pick-up counter are Chicago brick.

The spacious bar top will be polished, distressed zinc. The bar stools will be silver with red.

“Rustic chic is what we’re looking for,” Robin said.

The tables and chairs will be spread throughout the roomy space, with no distinction in the bar room. The interior seating is 75, with the bar stools.

The walls will feature what Robin called “wildly cool local art” by Aspen artist Tori Mitas-Campisi. They also will hang a large photo of a shaggy-headed Highland cow common in Steve’s native Northern England. The iconic Highland cow is part of their logo.

The Humbles are chomping at the bit to put their experience to work and share their creation.

“It was just time,” Steve said.