City of Aspen announces Wheeler restaurant finalists
The city announced the four finalists Tuesday for the restaurant space at the Wheeler Opera House, and existing tenant Justice Snow’s is not one of them.
An evaluation committee instead opted for a new direction for the city-owned space, selecting four operators of restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley.
In a news release prepared by a Texas-based public relations firm, the Aspen government identified the finalists as Hayden’s LLC, a four-person group comprised of Bill Dohery, Scott Gibsone, Travis Redd and Brent Reed, who is co-owner of the Kenichi sushi restaurant in Aspen; Mr. Grey LLC, led by Ryan Chadwick of the Grey Lady restaurant in Aspen; Elk Mountain Ventures LLC, a group that also runs Capitol Creek Brewery at the Willits retail center in Basalt; and Highlands Restaurant Group, which operates the Highlands Alehouse at the base of the like-named ski area.
The committee arrived at its decision after reviewing the applicants’ written proposals. They did not meet the applicants in person during the initial round.
“The next round will include interviews with those that have risen to the top,” said Assistant City Manager Sara Ott, who sits on the committee with Wheeler Executive Director Gena Buhler, city facilities and property manager Jeff Pendarvis, Wheeler board member Richard Stettner, and Tom Engelman, who runs the à la Car of Aspen restaurant delivery service.
The committee is aiming to make a recommendation to the City Council, which has the final say on the future tenant, on Feb. 26.
Eleven restaurant groups initially applied for the 2,618 square feet of restaurant space through a request-for-proposal process, which opened Dec. 1, including Fiercely Local LLC, the corporate entity behind Justice Snow’s, which has operated from the spot since 2011 following a similar proceeding with the city.
Michele Kiley, one of the owners of Justice Snow’s who also has served as its spokeswoman, appeared to take the news in stride. The city had previously expressed frustration with Justice Snow’s because it fell behind on rent and had an extended closure during the autumn offseason, while lackluster service stained its reputation.
“It’s been a great pleasure to serve the community, and we’re ready to support whatever the use of the space the city wants next,” Kiley said.
The Justice Snow’s lease expires April 15. Kiley said the restaurant, which has a full-time staff of about 35, will remain open until then.
The city has said the new restaurant must offer lunch and dinner for artists working at the Wheeler, provide catering services for receptions and special events at the opera house, and offer “grab and go” packaged meals for large festivals at the Wheeler. Some members of City Council, which will make the final decision on the future leaseholder, also have said they expect the new restaurant to be open seven days a week for most of the year and serve as a community-style location with affordable prices. Justice Snow’s so-called affordable meal has been a hamburger and a side for $12; it was originally priced at $10.
Locally accessible and affordable prices, however, have become a matter of debate because they are open-ended, subjective terms.
According to draft of the lease agreement for the new tenant, which is incomplete, the initial term would be a five-year period with an option for an additional five years. The contract does not specify rent amount but notes that the tenant would be required to provide the city, on an annual basis, its amount of gross sales for the year, as well as quarterly sales statements. The tenant also would be required to provide quarterly performance updates to the landlord and Wheeler staff. Additionally, the restaurant would put down a security deposit of $20,000 and would pay base rent and a percentage of gross sales to the city.
Reed, of Hayden’s, said the new restaurant would be nothing like Kenichi. The restaurant’s namesake would come from the 13,561-foot Hayden Peak located in the Elk Mountains, once eyed for a ski area in the 1930s.
“We want to connect the town to Aspen’s ski pioneering history,” Reed said.
Hayden’s would focus on what Reed called “ranch to grill,” a play off the “farm-to-table” phrase, serving local meats and wild game in a modern ski-lodge-type setting, Reed and his partners said.
“What our mission is, is to really create a restaurant that’s great for the community that connects us to the ski pioneers and allows us to celebrate the winter sports,” one of the partners said.
The remaining three restaurants offered the following public statements about their proposals:
• Mr. Grey LLC — “We invite you to support our concept of Beck & Bishop in the Wheeler Opera House Space. In one of Aspen’s most historical buildings, Beck & Bishop is a nod back to the famous Beck & Bishop Grocery Store that occupied the space from 1891-1968. Over the years, the Beck and Bishop families pioneered change and supported many local businesses. Fresh ground beef for the ever-popular Skiers Chalet Burger and freshly cut daffodils in the springs. They even provided freezer storage lockers for locals who didn’t have a way to store their wild game or canned goods and preservatives. The menu designed by Kathleen Crook (formerly, Steakhouse 316 and Grey Lady) features approachable and affordable American fare, channeling aspects from the old Beck & Bishop Grocery Store — A Butchers Grind Burger, Venison Corndog, and a Wild Boar Sloppy Joe.”
• Elk Mountain Ventures LLC — “Aspen Public House is a full-service restaurant concept that will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, without any seasonal closures. APH has adopted the following mission statement: ‘The mission of Aspen Public House: to express excellence in the most inclusive, accessible, genuine and hospitable way possible, and to provide an experience that offers exceptional value at the highest possible quality.’ The team at APH looks forward to adding value to the Aspen community and serving locals for years to come.”
• Highlands Restaurant Group — “The Highlands Alehouse team would be honored to bring their latest concept, The Wheelhouse, to add vibrancy to downtown Aspen. The Wheelhouse will offer a casual, yet refined ambiance. Our menu will feature seasonal healthy and comfort foods, all homemade. The Wheelhouse will create a multi-functional space, by creating a vibrant, bright and modern dining room and bar in the front room, and a warm and cozy dining space in the back, both respecting the history of the building and space. We want the Aspen community to feel welcomed and cherished in our establishment. Collectively with our community, we are eager to create a meeting place for locals and visitors alike to enjoy delicious food and libations, and spark conversations on one of the most bustling corners in town. We want to offer value to our customers by creating a high-quality, yet relaxed dining experience at reasonable prices.”
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