With two peak seasons and two shoulder seasons, Aspen’s tourist traffic is usually predictable. But nothing about the past year has been routine. Last fall, a time that, aside from leaf-peeper traffic, is usually dead, saw occupancy rates that rivaled those of a typical July. That influx of summer business was good for restaurants—really good.
“We did more business in September in 23 days, at 50 percent capacity, than we did in 30 days the year before,” says Jimmy Yeager, owner of Jimmy’s. This winter, however, will likely be different, not because there won’t be a healthy tourist trade, but because cold weather pushes diners inside—a place that many are wary of in this Covid landscape.
With that in mind, restaurateurs and chefs are staring down the coming months and doing what they can to entice folks to their tables, be they inside or out. At The Artisan at Snowmass Village’s Stonebridge Inn, area marketing director Kirstin Guinn says the restaurant is emphasizing après-ski. Last winter, the hotel’s recently renovated outdoor space wasn’t much of a draw, but Guinn expects that to change.
“This winter, we’re all about the afternoon happy hour scene. We’ve got games, and there are heaters and plexiglass barriers for those worried about close proximity,” she says. “It’s still outside, so people will want to bundle up, but you’ve got your cocktail, and you can play cornhole and oversize Jenga, and the fire pits will be going.” From there, Guinn says, guests can either have dinner in the dining room (which is laid out with only as many tables as capacity allows) or order to-go, and the kitchen will package it up.
Plato’s at the Aspen Meadows is taking a similar stance: embrace the outdoors. Part of the restaurant’s draw is the expansive views through floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors that open onto a rooftop deck. Tenting the outdoor space—thus blocking the vista—“would take away from the landscape,” says food and beverage director Danielle Becker.
Instead, Plato’s ordered inflatable igloos that can seat parties up to eight. Becker explains that dining at Plato’s is usually a community experience, with guests wandering from table to table because everyone knows each other. But this season, “We want instead to enhance the ability to be private and apart,” she says. “Your group inside the pod is your community for the night.” Of course, Plato’s will also continue to seat guests inside the dining room and in the lounge.
At the Aspen Airport Business Center, Mawa McQueen of Mawa’s Kitchen is focused on to-go and delivery. “I want to be the headquarters of meal pickup,” she says. After a summer of terrific sales, McQueen spent the fall looking for ways to increase capacity, including blowing out a wall. (Currently, she can only seat four tables.) The price tag on that, however, plus purchasing new floors and a rotisserie oven to keep up with demand, was too steep.
McQueen set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds, and in the meantime, she’s intent on keeping Mawa’s at the front of diners’ minds. “The menu is already geared to family and takeout,” she says, adding that she hired a pastry chef to create treats so Mawa’s becomes a one-stop shop. McQueen also owns the Crêpe Shack in Snowmass Base Village, which added a pickup window for ease of socially distanced ordering.
Yeager, of Jimmy’s in downtown Aspen, has used the pandemic and its capacity restrictions to refocus his restaurant. “We are a better business today than we were a year ago,” he says. Rather than chasing the incremental revenue that primarily came from a robust bar business, Yeager and partner Jessica Lischka shrank opening hours and reduced the size of the menu. For the first time in 23 years, Jimmy’s is open only five days a week instead of seven (it’s closed Sunday and Monday), and Yeager changed closing time from 10:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The unintended benefits? Increased quality and consistency for guests—and a staff that’s making more money and working less. So while Jimmy’s might be harder to get into these days, the experience as a whole is more dialed in.
Be it après-ski, dining in an igloo, takeout and delivery, or dine-in, Aspen and Snowmass still have a robust local restaurant scene to explore and savor. However you spend them, those dining dollars are more meaningful and impactful than ever. And don’t forget to tip generously.
Dining in, ordering delivery, or taking out?
At The Artisan…potato gnocchi with Brussels sprouts. (For curbside, call the restaurant directly, and don’t forget to add on a craft cocktail—or two. No delivery.) destinationhotels.com/stonebridge-inn/dining
At the Crêpe Shack…Alaskan crêpe with smoked salmon, oven-roasted tomato, capers, arugula, and dill cream. Gluten free or vegan? Ask for it on a buckwheat crêpe. (Call ahead, and pick up your order at the window. No delivery.) thecrepeshack.com
At Jimmy’s…the legendary blackened fish tacos, of course. (If you’re hoping for takeaway, note that the restaurant shuts down takeout from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. nightly to make sure the kitchen doesn’t get overwhelmed. No delivery.) jimmysaspen.com
At Mawa’s Kitchen…spicy jerk chicken bowl. (Order online, or call the restaurant. Delivery available.) mawaskitchen.com
At Plato’s…the tasting menu (a.k.a. the Harvest Menu) is a chance to savor what Chef de Cuisine Rachel Koppelman, who is an alumna of Bosq in Aspen and Eleven Madison Park in New York City, is dreaming up. (Curbside pickup is in the works, and once it is, don’t forget to add on a to-go cocktail. We’ve got our eyes on the hot buttered rum that comes with a pumpkin spice pop designed to melt into the drink. No delivery.) aspenmeadows.com/dining/platos-restaurant