Gypsum’s Rittenhouse opens with a great menu, greater mission | VailDaily.com

Gypsum’s Rittenhouse opens with a great menu, greater mission

The Rittenhouse is an excellent new restaurant with employee housing upstairs … and so much more.

When the Rittenhouse opened on Memorial Day in Gypsum, they weren't planning to do breakfast. But a guy strolled in with his 90-year-old dad, and dad asked if they could get some breakfast.

Sure, said Devin Effinger, who helps run the restaurant.

Then another group came in, and another, and before you can say, "I thought it was supposed to be a soft opening!" they had expanded their menu from lunch and dinner to include breakfast, and bought a new sign.

It's a good thing, because their huevos rancheros are one more chance for you to enjoy chef Lolis Chagoya's pork green chili.

It wasn't much of a change. They're in the restaurant business because they love it, and were in there working anyway. About the only schedule that changed was Effinger's, and he's the boss so nobody fussed much about it.

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The menu

The menu is not complicated, which is not the same thing as being simple.

Everything is fresh, made from scratch each morning. They hand-punch their fries, therefore the fries will bring tears to your eyes and that pork green chili is dead solid perfect.

Like most works of art, it's a work in progress. They have dinner specials — things such as chicken fried chicken, pork schnitzel and tri-tip steak — that rotate on and off the menu.

Menus are a lot like life. If something works, then you stay with it.

Their menu reflects the community. A morning coffee crew of life-long local friends rolls in every morning

The Rittenhouse is by the Eagle River, and the huge deck gets you down close to the water. If you want to get closer, then take a pastoral stroll on the lush lawn.

The mission

Effinger and Deb Altman run Survive, a local organization that helps local inmates transition out of jail and into the world. They spotted the Rittenhouse building a couple years back after the previous owner went belly up.

They learned someone else was trying to buy it, so they set the idea aside for a while. That deal fell through, though, so they made a run at it and bought it.

"The timing was perfect," Effinger said.

Survive is a program designed to help people transition from jail to the world.

There's nothing else quite like it anywhere. There's a similar program in Chicago that runs a culinary training program for people in prison. But that's about all.

It's all about that transition, Effinger said.

The numbers: The nation averages a 75 percent recidivism rate — number of people who go back to jail in less than a year of being released.

Recidivism for Survive graduates is less than 10 percent.

"If you can help change the offender, you can prevent a victim," Effinger said.

Not one taxpayer dime is spent on this program. Not one.

"They say it's a revolving door, but that changes if you put options on the other side of that door," Effinger said.

Why it works

"They get out of jail with the same bag of clothes they were arrested in," Effinger said.

In a few hours, they're hungry or tired, and need legal tender. They sometimes do something illegal to get it.

They need a couple of marketable skills and a place to sleep — preferably indoors.

Toward that end, Effinger, Altman and some others launched Survive in 2008. They teach a six-week restorative justice class for inmates winding down their jail stretch.

When they're out, they can land in one of the Rittenhouse rooms for a few weeks if they need to, and they learn some restaurant skills.

"That's a skill set that's always in demand in this area," Effinger said. "If you want to move on, you can get a job wherever you go."

One man's story

Brandon was on what he smilingly calls "a long journey."

He had five warrants — all non-violent stuff — in several counties.

He was before Judge Katharine Sullivan and figured he'd get a day or two for one of his adventures. She gave him six months, which shocked him but gave him a chance to reconsider his life choices.

In a week or two, some Survive folks strolled through the jailhouse doors offering food and coffee. It was 10 p.m. and the coffee was not decaf, but it wasn't jailhouse food and he didn't have anywhere to be in the morning.

"By the second or third class (with Survive) everything clicked," Brandon said.

Brandon has worked in restaurants for years, which is one of the reasons the Rittenhouse food and service are so good.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.