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The locals’ kitchen marks 30 years

Naomi Havlen
Waitress Amber Sparkles carries breakfast orders prepared by Conrado Delores at the Village Smithy in Carbondale on Saturday morning. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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If the kitchen is the gathering spot for a family, the Village Smithy fills that role for the town of Carbondale.This year the restaurant, owned and operated by the Chacos family, is celebrating its 30th anniversary dishing up breakfast and lunch.At the Village Smithy, patrons are greeted warmly as soon as they pass the threshold and an offer for coffee comes before butts hit one of the mismatched wooden chairs. The menu offers breakfast staples like eggs Benedict, waffles and huevos rancheros but also packs a punch with a blue crab and brie omelet, smoked salmon fritatas and blueberry corncakes.In a corner, you’ll find one of the restaurant’s regulars kicking back with a cup of coffee and a newspaper like Jack Sebesta and Gwen Ballard were on Saturday morning. Both seem to know the breakfast menu by heart, and while Ballard orders a garden burrito, Sebesta orders his western scramble with a number of substitutions to make it a little less artery-clogging.

“I started visiting my relatives here in ’78, and their last name was Smith, so they liked to eat at the Smithy,” Sebesta said. “It’s such a friendly place.” His own regular appearances at the restaurant began when he moved to Carbondale in 1986.Not much has changed over the years at the Smithy, which has tried serving dinners over the years before scrapping the meal in favor of a loyal breakfast and lunch crowd.The current Smithy owner – Charlie Chacos, whose parents, Chris and Terry, opened the restaurant in 1975 – used to bus tables for quarters when he was growing up.”I’ve tried to add some fresh touches without trying to mess with the history and what’s made it successful,” Chacos said. “It’s a balancing act, trying to keep things exciting. I don’t want to lose the people who have been getting their huevos rancheros here for 30 years.”

The building, a blacksmith’s workshop until the 1950s, is set back from Main Street by a large lawn. It was the Western Slope’s largest tropical fish store just before the Smithy moved in. Locals stand in groups greeting each other on the sidewalk outside, and flyers and posters announcing local events fill the entryway.True regulars belong to the Smithy’s Mug Club, hanging their mugs from home on hooks in the restaurant and enjoying discounted coffee during each visit.A family’s legacyChris and Terry Chacos lived in Aspen for about four years before deciding the town was growing too quickly. They moved to Carbondale to raise their family, and since Chris had worked at the Crystal Palace in Aspen and helped friends open a restaurant in Ouray, he decided to try out the restaurant business for himself.”My mom was a good cook, but my dad had no experience with that kind of thing,” Charlie said. “They like to tell people that two weeks before they opened, they didn’t have a cook or a menu.”

But the couple hired locals who could help them build the restaurant into what it is today, and without much true culinary experience, they found that breakfast was their forte.Charlie Chacos helped out here and there while growing up and discovered he loved the culinary field. He worked at Syzegy in Aspen when he was 17 and then cooked at the Little Nell Hotel. He majored in business at the University of Colorado Boulder and was a bartender in restaurants to learn the “front of the house” side of the business.Charlie originally vowed he would never take over the Village Smithy because he liked his life and bartending job in Boulder. But on a backpacking trip with his now-wife, Andrea, Charlie changed his mind. He wound up buying the restaurant from his parents in 1998.”I decided I would check it out, and if I don’t like it, I could sell it and move on,” he said. “It was out of the blue – deciding to move. But I apprenticed for a year under my dad, and he was so supportive about me coming in and giving the restaurant new energy and new blood. He never tried to rein me in.”

It’s a philosophy that carries on at the Village Smithy, where the longest-standing employee, Conrado Delores, started out as a non-English-speaking dishwasher 15 years ago. He has since become the restaurant’s kitchen manager.The front-of-the-house manager, El Jebel resident Bonnie Calderon, has worked at the Smithy for a year and said she enjoys how the Chacos family has created a restaurant for families and locals.”Probably 85 percent of our customers are locals,” she said, “and we get to know them like they’re family. When summer picks up we’ll start seeing even more people we recognize.”A large patio expansion added in 1999 is popular with the summer crowds and is enclosed in the winter to add more dining space.

“Restaurants have a hard enough time surviving – I feel blessed that I can make a living working just breakfast and lunch,” Charlie said. “That’s not common in the restaurant industry.”Charlie and his wife, Andrea, now have a 4-month-old son, Ari. The owner laughs when it’s suggested that Ari might someday join the restaurant business. But as Charlie’s own history might prove, you never know.”The two constants we’ve had are great employees that keep customer service great, and a legion of great customers who just keep on coming back,” he said.The elder Chacoses live in Fountain Hills, Ariz., during the winters and return to Carbondale for the summers. They eat at the Smithy “at least once a day during the summer,” Charlie said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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