Vail Valley restaurants adapt, innovate winter dining options for pandemic safety
Special to the Daily
Vail Valley restauranteurs have always adjusted to the drastic seasonal changes of a resort community, but never before 2020 have they had to fire up such creative substitutions on the fly.
Matthew McConnell, general manager of Splendido at the Chateau in Beaver Creek, shared how it’s been quite the rollercoaster of highs and lows. Splendido shut their doors to guests in March with the rest of the community, while still offering takeout meals and donating 150 to 200 meals a week to The Community Market.
McConnell said the summer months were busy, but now with reduced capacity in the restaurant (only 25% at the time of this interview in early December) and an unknown winter ahead, McConnell and Splendido chef-owner Brian Ackerman didn’t waver on making yet another pivot and doing what Splendido does best — creating memorable experiences for guests.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us and for our guests,” McConnell said. “Obviously it’s in response to these challenging times of having to reduce our indoor capacity, so of course we wanted to think of away to do that, but we didn’t just want to pop up a tent.”
Splendido’s outdoor patio has been transformed into the winter wonderland by the name of “Yurtopia.” Dining in them combines an experience of exclusive luxury with a charming winter aesthetic— ideal for a romantic date night or celebration meal with family.
Each yurt is constructed of waterproofed canvas with a custom-built wood base. Electric heat is used to warm the space and blankets are available for those chillier evenings. Guests can order from the regular nightly menu or have chef Ackerman create a unique tasting menu of Colorado flavors and wine pairings. Yurt rentals at Splendido are for the entire evening and have a food and beverage minimum based on the date and time of year they are requested.
Pivots From Every Corner of the Valley
There’s no lack of effort from dining establishments across the valley as they all have been working hard to stay in business throughout the pandemic.
“Village Bagel is proud to have stayed open every day since last March when COVID first struck Vail,” said Connie Leaf, owner-operator. “Some people may be surprised to hear that a properly-run food establishment is one of the most sanitary public places out there, given all of the public health requirements and certifications necessary to operate,” Leaf said. “Long before COVID-19, our employees were trained on the proper hygiene practices required by the county and the state to keep ourselves and our guests safe. Besides the mask and social distancing mandates that we of course uphold, we also regularly disinfect surfaces, wash our hands excessively, and check-in with our employees every day to ensure no one’s coming to work under the weather.”
Drunken Goat in Edwards just recently had an outdoor tent installed. Owner Casey Glowacki said they hope to “to accommodate more patrons that would feel more comfortable dining in that type of setting.” The tent can also be rented for private events. Cheese, charcuterie and wine are available to purchase from the Drunken Goat shop to-go, or buy your proteins next door at Cut.
Doug Abel, owner of Juniper Restaurant in Edwards, said Juniper and next-door Main Street Grill have erected a tent in the front of the restaurants this winter to accommodate guests in a safe, warm and comfortable environment.
Abel said he and industry peers understand that dining in has its challenges during a pandemic and that they certainly appreciate apprehension.
“The best way to support your local restaurants during this trying time is to order takeout,” he said, “or purchase gift cards to give or use in the future.”
At time of writing, restaurants are currently operating at 25% indoor occupancy with seating spread out. Greg Eynon, co-owner of Vin48 in Avon, says the restaurant decided to not seat the bar since June as an extra precaution for guests and staff, and for the upcoming winter they purchased multiple air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) placed throughout the dining areas and bar.
“By Christmas we will have four 10-foot heated yurts for our patio,” Eynon said. “The yurts will seat one table each and will be available for the whole evening with a food and beverage minimum.”
Eynon said the wine-focused restaurant is in a unique position as they are now able to sell anything in their cellar to-go.
“I am happy to work with any guest looking for that special bottle or case as a gift this year,” he said. “We have long lasting relationships with Colorado distributors that give us access to many wines and spirits you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get in a traditional retail shop.”
This winter, The Assembly in Eagle is offering family-style meals for guests to enjoy safely at home.
“Every Sunday we’ll announce the new menu and open that week’s pre-order,” said owner Jaimie Mackey. “Guests are able to schedule their pick-up for Thursday through Sunday. The menu will feature two three-course meals — salad or appetizer, entree, and dessert, with a choice of either an omnivore or a vegetarian (sometimes also vegan) entree.”
The restaurant will also be suggesting wine pairings each week, and guests are always welcome to browse their wine shop and purchase gift cards.
“Every little bit helps so much, and we hope we have something for everyone,” said Mackey. “We are so excited to have three different ways people can help us through this winter season.”
It Takes A Village
Samantha Biszantz, co-owner of Root & Flower and Two Arrows in Vail Village, said both establishments have continued to adapt to ever-changing guidelines, and have gone beyond the standard of updated cleaning procedures, symptom checks, QR menus and more.
Guests can order online from Two Arrows and the staff will bring guests coffee to the front door.
“Two Arrows also will have increased grab-and-go food and drink options to take on the mountain this year,” Biszantz said. “Like a cocktail in a Capri-Sun pack! Remember those?”
Root & Flower is launching a more robust to-go menu which will feature both hot-and-ready items from the menu, plus a take-and-bake section for larger parties who have homes or condos with kitchens.
“We will also offer large format cocktails and bottles of wine that would pair well with your meal — all available for delivery,” she said. “We are also doing virtual wine tasting classes still on request for private groups or local clubs around the area. If we are forced to close at any point, our catering company, UpRooted Events, will step in and serve all we have to offer in your home or condo!”
Looking to dine outside? El Segundo in Vail has heaters arriving for their patio.
“During après and dinner, we will have an outdoor bar on the patio where guests can get drinks and social distance on the heated patio,” said Ron Girotti, general manager. “Our goal is to not only provide a waiting area for people waiting for tables, but to create a fun outdoor bar experience for anyone who wants to hang out.”
El Segundo, like many local restaurants, have dialed in their take-out services to make them safe and streamlined. Mira Hozzova, owner and general manager of La Nonna Ristorante in Vail, said guests and locals are encouraged to utilize the restaurant’s take-out offerings.
“We offer a full take-out dinner menu, cook at home and family-style options,” she said. “There is something for everyone so we encourage anyone to call and see what take out options would best suit them.”
Andreas Harl, beverage director at Matsuhisa Vail, says that while restaurant inside the restaurant is limited, guests are invited to order to-go food straight from their phone or computer through the ChowNow online ordering system.
“We do touches delivery to their car at Solaris, or pick-up at the restaurant,” he said.
“Help us stay open by following all the county guidelines,” Harl added.
His remark is one with which every eatery in the Vail Valley likely resonates:
“See us often and try our take out menu,” Harl said, “or buy a gift card for your friends and family during the holidays.”
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