Paul E. Anna: High Points
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
If you have not heard, one of our hard-working Aspen City Council’s hot-button topics that needs to be resolved with alacrity is the selection of a new restaurant for the Bentley’s space in the Wheeler Opera House. In a food-affirming competition, not dissimilar to the one waged on Bravo’s Top Chef each week, four great local restaurateurs entered the City Council chambers and presented their concepts for the space. Walt Harris’s Ute/Syzygy Group and Billy Rieger, formerly of Bad Billy’s and currently of Kenichi, were asked to pack their knifes and go home despite what were surely well thought out, creative concepts that would have done the corner proud.
That leaves Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce’s CP Restaurant Group still standing in the final round against Michele Kiley and Marco Cingolani, operators of The Cheese Shop at Specialty Foods of Aspen who are presenting to the Council under the name Fiercely Local.
Now personally I hate food competitions. Though I understand that these are business decisions, I think all four parties who came to the Council are credits, no, assets, to our community. All do a great job in their respective establishments and are a big part of the reason why Aspen is Aspen. Each of the applicants run locally owned and operated eateries that are unique and representative of their own styles. We are fortunate to have each in this town.
That said, for this particular location I hope that Kiley and Marco get the nod. Over the years they have created an institution on the eastern edge of the downtown core with The Cheese Shop at Specialty Foods of Aspen. They are meticulous about fine food and service and it shows on the face of anyone who has ever sat down and had a panini and a salad for lunch. They took a downstairs space off the beaten track and created a well-loved, much-used community gathering place.
In addition, my experience with both Michelle and Marco have shown them to be tireless in their approach to producing a great product. Their mutual passion for using the very best ingredients and getting everything from the food to the wine to the ambiance so that it is just so, is unrivaled. I have no doubts that they would produce an Aspen institution given the opportunity in the spectacular space that is now Bentley’s.
That is not in any way a knock on the CP Group. Craig and Samantha have done a terrific job building a four-restaurant empire here in town and each of their establishments is unique from the others. CP Burger by the ice rink is a great addition and their spiked shakes are perhaps my single favorite item in town.
But in a place where messy vitality is, for some, a positive goal, then diversity plays a major role in achieving just that. The CP Group has Wild Fig just across the street from Bentley’s. Right round the corner is LuLu’s and toss a bone in the other direction and you’ll hit Brexi. All are great. But for me, I’d rather see a little diversity here.
There are those who will claim that there is more stability in the larger group and that may well be true. But if there were to be troubles in the future perhaps having as many eggs in a single basket could prove problematic. Perhaps a smaller entity may prove to be more nimble and flexible. I don’t know.
I do know that councilman Steve Skadron’s comments that the city should be a “incubator for an up-and-coming small local businesses” should not be a part of the equation. Social engineering should be beyond the scope of the City Council. Especially when it has to do with the approval of a bar and grill.
Anyway, best of luck to both sides in this culinary competition.
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