As the leaves start to change and temperatures begin to dip, Aspen restaurateurs — a number of whom say the addition of outdoor seating this summer saved their business — are asking themselves and their peers how they will get through this winter.
A few restaurant owners have said the prospect is daunting enough to keep them up at night.
“If you talk to any business owner in town, the first thing they say is, ‘What do you think about winter?’” Jimmy Yeager, a local resident and restaurant owner of more than 20 years, said via phone Tuesday. “What’s your plan? What are you going to do? How are you going to do this?”
Jessica Lischka, who is Yeager’s partner in Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar, an Aspen staple of 24 years, added: “Until we get answers from the people who make decisions, none of us can make a great plan.”
For exactly this reason, Yeager and Lischka on Tuesday afternoon sent a letter via email to more than 130 community members seeking to initiate a conversation about what winter will look like for businesses in Aspen. The letter was shared with local media and addressed to Aspen and Pitkin County elected officials, Pitkin County Public Health and Board of Health and fellow business owners.
As Pitkin County began to plan its post-lockdown economic reopening this spring, Yeager shared a related message on May 2 to a similar audience. The goal of both letters, Yeager said Tuesday, was to spark an open conversation and get the ball rolling, ideas flowing and engage the business community with policy-making discussions.
“We want to make sure that the county commissioners and the public health department see us as allies in this conversation, and not to be lone wolves and try to make decisions on our behalf,” Yeager said. “What we don’t want is for [elected officials] to start just making decisions unilaterally without our voice.”
Lischka said she and Yeager recently participated in a successful and inspiring roundtable discussion with Colorado senator Michael Bennet and other business owners in the state. The two hope Aspen and Pitkin County can follow suit.
“The amount of ideas that came out of that from different leaders in the community was very positive and very forward-thinking,” Lischka said. “We’re hoping that by starting the conversation here in Aspen with fellow business owners, there may be some really great ideas out there that people can collaborate on that work together with public health orders and increasing peoples’ revenues.”
Jimmy’s, for instance, is in the process of installing an HVAC technology that will improve the restaurant’s air quality and create an overall safer indoor dining experience for patrons. Aspen Community Office for Resource Efficiency worked with Jimmy’s to help determine the effectiveness of the units, which are “relatively cost effective,” Yeager and Lischka noted in the letter.
At Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop and Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar, owner Wendy Mitchell is completely adapting both business models for the winter season.
Despite myriad unknowns, Mitchell wrote in an email to her staff last week that she decided to create a plan because, “the uncertainty of the spring and going into summer was so stressful.”
That plan includes eliminating indoor dining at Meat & Cheese, which will only offer take-out lunch and dinner, with delivery options still to be determined. Mitchell and her staff are also in the process of adding the restaurant’s entire farm shop inventory online.
“The plan is to up our game on trays and baskets to go, as well as offer shipping, which we hope will be popular for the holidays,” Mitchell wrote. She hopes these adjustments will allow her to retain as many kitchen employees as possible while simultaneously capitalizing on a developing market for at-home cooking.
Downstairs at Hooch, a chic supper club is expected to take life inside the dimly lit bar beginning Nov. 9. Noting the concept is a work in progress, Mitchell said the idea is to offer patrons an elegant, prix fixe dinner to six or so tables starting around 6 p.m.
“As we don’t know when last call will be, it’s hard to say what happens after dinner,” Mitchell said. “But this will allow us to keep Hooch open in the winter and maybe keep a few more servers employed, as well as back of house people.”
As with other local restaurants, Mitchell intends to keep the patio open for as long as possible this fall.
Down the street at the Creperie, owner Raphael Derly said Tuesday he hopes to be able to “winterize” the 400-square-foot patio that the restaurant constructed in response to the pandemic. Derly recently initiated conversations with the city about adding heat to the space, which he called a saving grace.
“It’s really important for us to keep that deck,” he said. “Whatever comes to us, we’ll take it. We’ll be excited to adjust and keep rolling.”