Secret Sauce: CP Burger heads into its 10th winter
433 E. Durant Ave.
“Will Smith, order ready! Bugs Bunny, order ready!”
Despite being a familiar shtick for a decade, hearing celebrity and pop-culture names called over the loudspeaker at CP Burger never gets old. This sense of playfulness defines the fast-casual eatery and entertainment venue, which quickly became a community hangout for kids of all ages after it opened in October 2010.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, the place is positively buzzing. Families, couples, and friend groups have gathered among umbrella-topped patio tables and miniature golf greens to bask in the sun on what might be one of the final days of fall. Local and visiting patrons peel away parchment paper around hefty burgers, untangle piles of hand-cut skinny fries, and sip shakes, soda, canned craft beer and boxed wine. At least a dozen kids hopscotch among the homespun course — all built by Craig Cordts-Pearce, co-founder of CP Restaurant Group with wife, Samantha — hooking clubs over shoulders, peering beneath the tiny wooden windmill, running around, scheming, giggling. Notwithstanding the vacation tyke who suffers a meltdown, folks can’t help but smile here at this happy hot spot in the center of town.
The food, while simple, is consistently good. Similar to other CP ventures in Aspen, currently including The Wild Fig, Steakhouse No. 316, and The Monarch, the menu is curated from carefully sourced ingredients. Everything is made fresh on-site: burger patties are formed by hand from Colorado beef, turkey or herbed falafel; chicken and tuna is responsibly sourced; fries are hand-cut; and salad dressings blended in small batches. There’s a 100% wagyu beef hot dog, edamame to share and organic dairy in the shakes.
“The guys in the kitchen are so incredible,” Craig marvels. “We probably serve 600 to 800-plus hamburgers a day in the crunch of the summer.”
Considering that a basic cheeseburger costs $7.95 and an endless round of miniature golf in summer or ice skating in winter tallies just $8, there’s no doubt that CP Burger offers one of the more gently priced outings in town.
“We open concepts that we think the town needs,” continues Craig, in this case taking what was then an underutilized, “cloaked” ice skating rink run by the Hyatt Grand Aspen, which leases the property, and turning it into a social hub serving quality counter-service eats.
“CP Burger is a yin-yang property: we have skating (and golf) and burgers — two forms of revenue coming in. It doesn’t make tons of money, but if we didn’t have the other side of it, the burgers would have to be $12.”
Popular among adults are booze-spiked shakes and Lulu’s Original Kale, a Parmesan-dusted, currant- and pine nut-studded pile of greenery in homage to the CP Group’s former Lulu Wilson on Restaurant Row. Culinary cognoscenti credit Lulu’s with sparking the kale salad trend in Aspen, and the choice to include the beloved dish at CP Burger turned out to be prescient: the couple closed Lulu Wilson one year after opening CP Burger, in October 2011, to become Steakhouse No. 316.
CP Burger’s launch was personal, too, as it provided a hangout that would grow up alongside the couple’s son, Bryce, then 6, and daughter Alexis, 4. Located just a stone’s throw from the Rubey Park Transit Center, Aspen students are able to hop off a bus and have a shake or sandwich in hand in mere minutes. The central location, ensconced by landscaping and railings, has made CP Burger a classic choice for birthday parties, athletic team events, and exhibition shows by children’s ice skating clubs during the 12 Days of Christmas. Grandparents can lounge while their charges run mostly carefree.
“It was always for kids to a have something else to do and a not-so-fancy restaurant for them to eat at,” Samantha says. “Back in the day you had Boogie’s, but you had to go in and sit down.”
McDonald’s was an anomaly, of course, using sketchy ingredients to boot. Some folks have joked that CP Burger may have been partly responsible for edging out the Golden Arches, previously the only eat-in fast-food venue for some 31 years. The “underperforming” chain shuttered in January 2016.
“CP Burger is as good as making it in your house,” says Samantha, herself a discerning parent. “It’s a whole scratch kitchen. That’s hard to get in a fast-casual restaurant. The food’s good.”
Coincidentally, I dined at The Monarch last week, and ended up sitting at the bar next to her son, Bryce, now an Aspen High School junior, fresh off a regional tennis tournament win and on his own for dinner with his folks off on an offseason scouting trip to Europe. Between bites of his first Monarch Bison Burger — “a different beast, for sure” from his go-to CP Burger with American cheese (plus Parmesan truffle fries and Oreo Munch shake), he says — Bryce shared that it was super cool to have a place such as CP Burger to chill with friends after school and on weekends. The burger joint, for him, represents an entire lifetime of memories.
“The reason why we can sell prime hamburgers in the middle of Aspen is the golf and skating, (which) brings people there to connect with their families,” Craig says. “When they connect with their families, they connect with the food. It’s a winter wonderland or a summer (hub).”
While the CP Burger menu has largely remained the same, with a few minor tweaks over the years (breakfast burritos, for one, were short-lived), the Cordts-Pearces are excited to unveil modern additions this winter.
“Now there are meatless burgers,” Craig says. “We’re experimenting with these new products — there’s so much to consider.” Also critical: A return to real ice on the skating rink this winter. (See “Ice, Ice, Baby,” above.)
While Craig toys with the idea of re-wrapping his pickup truck with the CP Burger logo (he removed it from the vehicle about three years ago), the rallying cry of adolescent fans rings clear. He tells of shuttling his kids to school in the logo truck, representing a brand synonymous with childhood in Aspen.
“CP!” the young bros would call out across the parking lot, each syllable extended in a throaty roar. “Love yer shaaakes!”
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