Craftsman 2.0: Edwards’ restaurant eyes new opportunity in former Gore Range Brewery
The new restaurant will bring all the things customers love about Craftsman with a few added touches, including beer brewed in house
When Chris Schmidt first opened Craftsman in Edwards four years ago, it was the culmination of his life’s work and the actualization of a long-held dream. And in these four years, while the chef-driven, craft sandwich restaurant has enjoyed many successes, Schmidt has always had his eyes on the next thing — and on a restaurant-brewery space across the street.
And in November, the opportunity simply presented itself, when Gore Range Brewery announced its closure and building sale. Schmidt, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Janelle, said that while they hadn’t actively been looking for space, it was the perfect timing. They signed a lease and announced his plans to expand into the space and build a bigger Craftsman, expected to open in summer 2022.
“It came out of nowhere, and I don’t know if it is the right time, but I’ve always looked at that building and daydreamed about it because Craftsman’s been so busy — we’re cranking and we need more space,” Schmidt said. “I think we have a chance, if we do it right, to really be a staple in this community and that means a lot for me.”
Honing the craft
Schmidt grew up in and around restaurants. Both his parents worked as restaurant managers, leading him to decide at a young age that he wanted to be a chef. At age 15, he started his first job frying up eggs and bacon at a Waffle House in Georgia. And quickly, Schmidt moved into the world of fine dining, starting his second job a year later at a local country club.
“I’ve just always loved creating things; it’s the challenge of creating and making delicious food and seeing a smile on people’s faces when they eat something you worked so hard on,” Schmidt said. “It’s not an easy life, it’s not an easy industry, but it’s very rewarding and I’ve just always loved that. “
Support Local Journalism
Ultimately, Schmidt’s career in the world of food and fine dining would take him to Atlanta, New York City, Denver, and ultimately, to Vail where he served as the head chef at Sweet Basil. Through these years, he gathered all the inspiration, knowledge and experience he would need to one day open his own restaurant — aiming to do so by age 30.
“We were two weeks away from opening on my 30th birthday,” he said.
With Craftsman, Schmidt wanted to take his background in fine dining and do something more approachable.
“I just wanted to take a step back and do something a little less pretentious, if you will,” he said, adding that while in Atlanta he had begun fantasizing about creating “cool, chef-driven sandwiches.”
Which is ultimately what Craftsman brought. With counter-service, a small dining area and a bar, the restaurant serves up a variety of unique, craft sandwiches.
At the time when he opened Craftsman, Schmidt had also contemplated opening a brewery, but instead decided to merge this passion for brewing by supporting other craft breweries in the restaurant — making it not only a food destination, but a beer destination as well.
And so far, so good — the restaurant found success and large community support. Even through the pandemic, while it brought a full set of challenges to the entire restaurant industry, Schmidt said that it also brought a “ton of local support” as well as some hard lessons about the business.
“COVID was hard, it was a brutal year,” he said. “Just look at where the industry’s at now with staffing: it’s so hard to find good people or young cooks that want to learn, that want to read cookbooks, that follow restaurants, that are truly passionate about what they do. That’s always been a challenge in the mountains and I feel like post-COVID, it’s just been even harder.”
However, Schmidt noted that these challenges did force different areas in a different, and even positive direction — consolidating where it could and shifting hours to prioritize work-life balance and better take care of its staff.
And now, coming out on the other side, busier than ever, Schmidt is ready to take Craftsman to the next level.
The vision for the old Gore Range space is “Craftsman 2.0,” he said. “As corny as that sounds, I don’t want to get away from what Craftsman is and made people fall in love with us.”
However, the new space will allow for the brand to grow in several areas, including not only an opportunity to expand the size of the space and its offerings, but the chance to bring brewing in-house.
Schmidt will partner with the Frisco-based Outer Range Brewery, and its head brewer, Lee Cleghorn, for the brewing component. The duo has partnered before, when Schmidt brought a Thai-inspired fried chicken food concept Bird Craft to the brewery’s expanded taproom, which opened in 2020.
“They kind of gave me full range,” Schmidt said of the partnership. “Ultimately it’s what they did for me, I just want to let them run with it — they’re amazing brewers, I love what they do, I don’t want to put some constraints on them.”
Schmidt said that Cleghorn will bring in a brewer for the space, overseeing the operation and consulting on the branding and recipes.
With the new space, Schmidt is looking forward to also expanding the menu — mainly its small plates and salads, while also potentially adding some large-format sharing dishes — and expanding into a full-service bar that will include not only the beers brewed in house, but additional craft offerings, craft cocktails, wines and a large whiskey collection.
“We’re just building on what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re just really excited about the future and what we’re going to do.”
Schmidt and his wife also have early plans for the existing Craftsman space — an “Italian-leaning,” artisan pizza space, which he is calling “In Bloom.”
“It’s been a long time in the making, he said. “My wife and I ran a restaurant in Atlanta called Float Away Cafe and we’ve always missed that style of food, so this is going back to our roots, in a sense.”
While still in the early phases — Schmidt doesn’t anticipate that it will open until the new Craftsman is up and running — he envisions a menu with fresh-pulled mozzarella, great charcuterie, fresh oysters, artisan pizza, seasonal small plates, Amaros, Negronis and natural wines.
“It’ll be a hit, a lot lighter and more feminine than Craftsman currently is, but definitely something I’m really excited about,” he said.
And as Schmidt looks into the future — and the to-do list of things he has to get down — he’s excited about the prospect of continuing to add to the local food scene.
“We’ve fallen in love with the valley. The longer we’ve been here, the more and more it’s just becoming home,” he said. “It’s just such a beautiful, cool area and so to continue to be a staple in the community and hopefully put out the best food, make people happy, and get people excited about something, that means a lot to me.
If we can keep inspiring and keep putting up cool restaurants, I’m all about it.”