Basalt’s Cafe Bernard sold to new owners who plan to honor its 28-year history
This time, the sale of Cafe Bernard came off without a hitch.
The Basalt institution was sold Friday to Alejandro Vazquez Bonilla and Anabel Meza, both veterans of the local restaurant industry. They took over the restaurant Saturday.
A sale to different perspective buyers fell through late last year.
Bernard Moffroid and Cathy Click Moffroid, the owners for the prior 28 years, served their last supper Friday night.
Bernard said diners made toasts and were pulling out quotes that the outspoken, funny and occasionally gruff French chef supposedly came up with over the years.
“I felt like I was being eulogized,” he quipped.
He was egged into making his own toast when he emerged from the kitchen to the dining room to hobnob with customers, as he regularly did over the course of an evening.
“I grabbed somebody’s Champagne and said, ‘Goodbye, suckers!’” Moffroid said.
Bernard and Cathy opened the restaurant on Midland Avenue in July 1990 among skepticism that a French cafe would be too upscale for Basalt. They accepted the challenge and soon adopted the motto, “Cafe Bernard — where cowboys eat croissants.”
A sense of humor always has been part of the operation. So, too, has hard work. Cathy learned to bake and the cafe gained a following for freshly made morning buns. They were open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She served breakfast, he served dinner and they collaborated for lunch.
After nearly three decades in business and weathering the Great Recession, they thought they had the restaurant sold last summer to a couple from France. The deal was contingent on the couple getting a special E-2 Investor Visa. They hired an attorney but couldn’t acquire the special visa after the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration.
The proposed sale to the French couple seemed ideal, but this transaction also seems right, Moffroid said. He is helping the buyers get adjusted this week.
The two-story, 1898 building also is under contract for sale in a separate transaction.
Vazquez and Meza are longtime restaurant industry veterans who dreamed of owning their own business. Meza said they wanted to buy an existing restaurant with an established clientele. With all the loyal customers, they knew Bernard and Cathy were doing something right. They plan to uphold the excellence.
Vazquez said the menu and name of the restaurant will remain the same. He will start adding specials in a month or so. They will feature fresh ingredients.
He appreciates that Cafe Bernard has been in business for so long.
“The reason I want to keep it the same is it has history,” Vasquez said.
He also likes French food. He has worked as a cook and sous chef in the Roaring Fork Valley restaurant business since 2001, in places as varied as Cache Cache, Campo de Fiori, Riverside Grill and Down Valley Tavern. He’s prepared Italian, American, Mexican, Tex-Mex and French food in the past, but has a clear favorite.
“I like the ingredients in French and the different styles of French cuisine,” he said.
The husband-and-wife team will be very hands-on. He is the chef. Anabel’s forte is customer service. She worked at Upper Crust for the past 12 years. She also worked in Aspen’s legendary La Cocina restaurant years ago.
The sale of Cafe Bernard was brokered by Charlie Spickert and his business, Touchstone Business Advisors. The transition was quick and almost seamless.
“Cafe Bernard never really closed,” Moffroid said. “It was like a revolving door. We left, they came in.”
They served 109 breakfasts on Sunday alone. Meza said the restaurant’s customers have been great and made her and her husband feel welcome.
Moffroid has mixed emotions about leaving the cafe.
“Of course it’s bittersweet,” he said.
The restaurant was such a big part of their lives for so long. They inherited nothing but coolers and a pizza oven when they leased the space in 1990. It took a lot of effort to build the business into what it is today.
“It wasn’t easy,” Bernard said, “but it got better.”
He’s uncertain that he can break the routine of walking downtown from his house a block away to check on the restaurant and business activity as he has done for so many years.
Cathy wasted no time getting out of town and flying to New York to see their daughter. Bernard will soon join Cathy there, then they will travel to France for a river cruise to celebrate the sale and his birthday. Bernard turns 80 in February.
A civil deputy kept her job and was mandated to undergo counseling after Aspen police arrested her in July on suspicion of driving under the influence and reckless driving.
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