THE ASPEN SERVICE INDUSTRY RUNS THIS TOWN 2018-02-20¢ services, citing 2016 City of Aspen...
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A S P E N T I M E S W E E K L Y ✦ Mar ch 9 - Mar ch 15 , 20 17 20
WORKAHOLICS THE ASPEN SERVICE INDUSTRY
RUNS THIS TOWN BY AMANDA RAE | PHOTOS BY ANNA STONEHOUSE
THE IMAGE OF THE ASPEN BARTENDER or server is steeped in ski-town swagger. Maestros of Aspen’s
vibrant social scene, they earn pocketfuls of cash and stories galore after successful shifts during peak season.
Schedules are flexible—there’s always a coworker chasing extra hours. Night owls may be luckiest: They sleep in
then soak up the sun on the slopes, trails, links, or rivers all afternoon before clocking-in again around dusk.
21A S P E N T I M E S . C O M / W E E K L Y
Repeat this pattern a few times weekly until the lifts close in April or leaves fall in October…then gather stacks and travel for a month or two before returning to town to do it all over again. The cycle is intense, addictive, and enough to keep the rest of us wondering: Have service industry workers cracked the formula to Aspen living?
“I love the chaos, I thrive off it,” says Campo de Fiori bar manager Chris Carmichael—one of the handsome, dark-haired dudes you’ve likely encountered at the Italian hot spot over the past 18 years. Recreation during downtime, year-round, has been his main motivation since moving here following college back East.
“I may not go to a lot of places (which I have), but I’ve met people from everywhere,” enthuses Carmichael, 46. “These eccentric people bring exposure. I love that aspect: People come here to party, spend money, drink, and wear their winter outfits. Town can be jamming…and nobody’s out on the hill! It’s a win-win.”
No doubt about it, bartenders, servers, and other restaurant staff are crucial cogs in the wheels of Aspen’s fast-spinning party machine. Call them merrymakers, conducting fun for cosmopolitan clientele seeking crazy shenanigans, night after wild night, for which our town is known. Fueled by wealth, luxury, camaraderie, and good times, the service industry affords workers ample opportunity to enjoy the fresh-air lifestyle we all covet while foiling FOMO.
“My social life is [at] work,” Carmichael explains. “On nights off, I am home. I don’t feel like I’m missing out anymore.” While he might have felt stifled as an Aspen freshman, Carmichael quickly discovered a healthful tradeoff: clearheaded focus to pursue other enterprises, three days per week.
“I was able to remodel my home,” he continues. “I work for Aspen Ambulance part-time and volunteer with Basalt Fire as an EMT two days a week.” Currently he manages a bunch of rental units in Basalt, where he lives. Physical separation from Ute City, he notes, has been crucial to his work-life balance.
While it’s hard not to feel a twinge of envy toward such perked-out professionals, many of us locals have lived that dream at some point.
“We know that the service industry has the highest number of employees,” says Erik Klanderud, Aspen Chamber Resort Association director of member services, citing 2016 City of Aspen retail sales data (see graph, p. 23). “Look at the ‘restaurants and bars’ section: it’s second to accommodations—125 million, year-to-date (in December 2016)—that’s huge!”
About 70 of the 86 total liquor licenses in Aspen currently belong to
bars, restaurants, and clubs, according to city clerk Linda Manning. That translates to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of folks forgoing the 9-to-5 status quo so prevalent outside our bubble.
“I made a conscious choice to be in the industry—I wasn’t built to sit behind a desk and get two weeks vacation a year,” says Louise Evans, a J-Bar server for four years.
Previously Evans ran the bar and managed Tempranillo in Basalt for five-and-half years, after bartending midvalley for a decade. Before that she tended bar in Washington, D.C., for 22 years. She transitioned to serving six years ago—“I starting feeling trapped behind the bar,” she explains—and hasn’t looked back.
“I’ve been in the business over 40 years,” Evans says. “Working at the
Jerome is a dream job: We have a great crew, no turnover in almost four years, management is amazing. The money is part of it, but it’s also the social interaction. You’ll see CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies sitting next to ditch-diggers next to movie stars, talking about how they broke their first horse or what it’s like to be on tour in a venue with 50,000 people. That’s what this business is about.”
Considering that the first thing many new residents do when craving connection is belly up to a bar, service workers may be initial points of contact. Three-year resident Tiffany Cook recalls her Aspen introduction, after beers at the historic Red Onion.
“At home that night, I’m flipping through Powder magazine, and I see a photo spread featuring [bartender] Pat Sewell! You have ski-bums—and pro-skiers—working there. They don’t do it because they have to. They do it because they want to.”
(Red Onion manager Brad Smith, local restaurant fixture since the 1990s, confirms: employees such as Sewell and Jordan White feed an important, though fading, Aspen image.)
“PEOPLE COME HERE TO PARTY, SPEND MONEY, DRINK ...”
ABOVE: Red Onion bartender and pro-skier Pat Sewell serves up a cocktail. TOP: Maru’s nightly chef sashimi combo.
A S P E N T I M E S W E E K L Y ✦ Mar ch 9 - Mar ch 15 , 20 17 22
And location is the ultimate motivation for most. “You point to the window and go, Look at my office!” Evans says. “At one point I had five jobs. You make it work.”
Says bartender Alexis Kendall at Bosq, “‘Our life is their vacation.’ It’s so cliché, but it’s honest. [Visitors] come here, they’re excited, you’re excited, it reinvigorates your love for where you are. The people you meet here you might not meet in any other social circle. They’re so…free. They become friends. You go to their homes in other places. You travel with them. It doesn’t matter where you came from or where they came from, you have common ground.”
Growing up the daughter of a restaurateur father and mother who owned salons, Kendall, now 34, split her time between Aspen and Naples, Fla. She entered the service industry in the Sunshine State, first as a line cook, then front-of-house. Once rooted in Aspen, she got a bar gig at Pacifica (RIP, 2013).
“I started to love bartending because it’s essentially cooking with spirits,” Kendall says. “I had a passion for it.”
After launching cocktail programs at Bia Hoi and Ricard in Snowmass as a consultant for an L.A. restaurant group, and helping Grey Lady Aspen open, she took a brief hiatus. Hawking cowboy couture at Kemo Sabe, however, didn’t resonate.
“It’s great to have two months off each shoulder season, but it’s this romance
you have with it,” Kendall explains of her job. “You hate the long hours, but you love the interactions. And the time after the restaurant closes. And before, when we sit down for family meal. Those things are so addicting that I keep getting drawn to it.”
Aspen locals are hooked, too. Some bartenders and servers develop steadfast fans; often when they leave a venue, their customers follow.
“They’re bar people,” Kendall says. “Where’s so-and-so? Let’s go there.”
On a recent Friday afternoon at L’Hostaria, that tight-knit family culture is in full force. At least 50 percent of the restaurant’s 45-person staff has been on payroll six years or longer, says owner Tiziano Gortan. “They feel proud to be part of this team that can please 70,000 people a year.”
Celebrating its 20-year anniversary all year, the L’Hostaria crew prepares for the inevitable crush of customers seeking popular 12 plates of homemade pasta. Bartender Kristin Pride notes that Gortan hasn’t raised that price in the 11-plus years she’s worked there.
“Our ticket averages in the bar are pretty low,” Pride admits. “We have to turn and burn to stay above water, but he wants to keep it that way to take care of local clientele.”
A bartender since college, Pride, 42, now fills just one shift weekly (an industry rarity), complementing her day job in commercial property
management. “It’s such a busy restaurant that
the way we work together has to be spot-on, otherwise we get buried,” she says. “We pull together as a team.”
Four-year L’Hostaria server Randi Trowbridge, 28, chimes in. “We’re all on the same page of professionalism,” she says. “And we hang out outside of work—mountain bike, dirt bike, go skiing together. That makes a stronger team.”
Similar to Pride, Trowbridge has been in Aspen since age 19, working at Toppers, Gusto Ristorante, D19, Ellina, and Ajax Tavern. L’Hostaria is a career highlight.
“We may not make the biggest money in town, but we’re definitely consistent,” she says. “That means more to me [than] having those big nights then a really low night. I’ve worked at new restaurants in town and it’s stressful to get rhythm going. L’Hostaria [has] a system that works.”
That’s why Jamie Contractor, 32, returned about eighteen months ago to become L’Hostaria manager. After hostessing for many years here, she went traveling. Landing a corporate restaurant gig upon returning to Asp