Three longtime Snowmass restaurateurs team up at Venga Venga
Slopeside cantina undertakes offseason renovations under new management
Technically, Venga Venga has one new general manager on board: Alex Young, who joined the team just a stone’s throw from his previous gig managing Slow Groovin’ Chophouse on the Snowmass Mall.
But really, it’s more like there are three general managers onsite, according to Young. He recruited Stephen Romance — formerly the general manager at Base Camp — to be his assistant general manager, and longtime Venga Venga chef Eddie Chimal also held down the front-of-house fort as the general manager at the slopeside Mexican cantina last year.
All three have spent nearly 15 years in the industry, and they each have experience cooking, too: Chimal has spent more than a decade in the kitchen at Venga Venga, but Romance and Young likewise put in their fair share of hours in the back of the house.
Together, the three make a team Chimal said is “the strongest one I’ve seen in my 11 years” at Venga Venga.
It’s also “one of the most unique things that we’ve got going on with this management team,” Young said in a joint interview with Romance and Chimal at the restaurant last week. Though plenty of restaurants have several management staff on the roster, it’s not too common — “unheard of,” in fact, in any restaurant Young has been involved with — to have three with that all-around general manager experience, he said.
Chimal, for his part, is looking forward to channeling his energies back in the kitchen after his stint with the front-of-house operations last year. The experience as general manager was fun and one that shifted his perspective on balancing the requests of diners with the interests of the kitchen.
“I don’t want to say I’m going to miss the front-of-house — it was fun, it was really a challenge for me, learning something new,” Chimal said. “After like working, what, like 14 years in the kitchen, and then you jump in the front of house, I was like, ‘Wow.’”
That kind of background will come in handy as Venga Venga emerges from last year’s pandemic-restricted dining scene into the 2021-22 winter season.
“I think that was one reason why all three of us were able to survive COVID, because we had to wear so many different hats and we already had that experience,” Young said.
“We’ve done this for a long time, so you have to be malleable, you have to be ready to make changes on the fly,” Romance said.
Young sees this coming winter as a “fresh start,” and the setup at the restaurant will reflect that.
Renovations are currently underway to bolster the outdoor patio’s seating capacity by more than 50% without actually expanding the footprint of the space by updating the layout to accommodate more diners. The management also has aspirations to restore Venga Venga’s status as an apres-ski destination. There are plans to offer DJs and live music Thursday through Saturday, according to an Nov. 3 email from Channing Johnson, the marketing manager for Richard Sandoval Hospitality; celebrity chef Sandoval owns and manages Venga Venga and assembled the team of Chimal, Young and Romance.
Passerby can spot the offseason revamp currently happening on the patio as they walk past the Snowmass Mall; the restaurant is slated to reopen this winter but does not yet have an opening date set.
The menu, too, is undergoing a few changes. The familiar offerings will still be there — chips and guac aren’t going anywhere — but Chimal also will introduce some more elevated dishes that keep with the traditions of Mexican cuisine.
The goal there is to bring Venga Venga up a notch to align with Sandoval’s other restaurants. Richard Sandoval Hospitality is involved in more than 50 restaurants worldwide, including the contemporary pan-Latin restaurant Toro Kitchen and Lounge located inside the Viceroy Snowmass.
Chimal also wants to bring back some old favorites that repeat customers will recognize as the return after COVID-19 interrupted travel plans for some.
“Before COVID, people came every single year for my dishes,” Chimal said — including one older woman who came back for seven years to enjoy his chile relleno.
“We’re trying to bring back all the dishes that people love,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Richard Sandoval’s ownership of Venga Venga and correct which days music will be offered. The plan is to offer a mix of live music and DJs Thursday through Saturday during the season.
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