A few weeks ago Michael Hanrahan was so busy trying to get his new restaurant, Cuisine Cafe, open at The Seasons Building in Avon that his 10-year-old daughter, Jamee, unselfishly offered her assistance.
“She said, I’m willing to skip school, dad, in order to help get you guys open.”
Nice as the offer was, Hanrahan didn’t take her up on it, and he and partner, Michael Connolly, were still able to get things up and running.
Hanrahan, also the owner of Cuisine Catering in Minturn, has been a familiar face in the valley’s restaurant scene since he moved here with his wife, Nancy, 18 years ago. At Minturn’s first chili cook-off in December, Hanrahan swept the awards, winning first place awards for his green, red and exotic chilis.
“The gentleman, J.K., from the Vail Daily, said ‘I just found out you won all three (awards), how do you feel about that?’ I said, ‘Almost embarassed, I could have spread it around a little.'”
Caramie Schnell: How did you get into the restaurant industry?
Michael Hanrahan: I needed gas money when I was a kid. My parents lived up the road from the five-star restaurant in Boulder, the Greenbriar. So I went down to wash dishes.
CS: You grew up in Boulder?
MH: Outside of Boulder. One day, a couple of the cooks didn’t show up for work and they asked me if I could do the job, and I said I could do it better than the people that weren’t there. I cooked for a long time in Boulder. I went to Colorado Mountain College in Carbondale and then went back to Boulder and worked at the Boulder Country Club, where I met my wife.
CS: What was she doing there?
MH: She was waiting tables. Classic restaurant story. She wanted to figure out a way to get her food quicker and better and we ended up hooking up. We’ve been together for 18 years.
CS: When did you move to Vail?
MH: Eighteen years ago. People told me if you went to culinary school you would make more money, so I went to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont as an advanced placement student and then came out here and did my internship at Beaver Creek. I worked for Vail Resorts for a while. Didn’t make enough money, worked too much, so I went to Mirabelle. Worked there for a year. Then I opened up SaddleRidge when they first opened. I worked at the Evergreen Lodge for a year and then at Legends for a year, which is where Blue Moose is now. From there I got offered a job as an executive chef in Aspen. I went over there for one year.
CS: Did you commute or move?
MH: We moved to Basalt for a while. It wasn’t for me. It was a long drive. We got tired of the people in Aspen going ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Oh, Vail – You wanted to move to a real ski town, huh?’ Just the whole Aspen thing – it was sad, because I love to go to Aspen. My son, Torey, was conceived in Aspen. When we have time to go on a vacation we go there and love it and we still get the same thing – ‘Oh, you’re from Vaaaaiiilll, huh?’ I don’t understand that, we welcome the people from Aspen here. Then we came back, I ran a restaurant at the Charter for a few years and after that we branched out into catering.
CS: And you like it?
MH: Yes. You know, it’s like anything up in this valley. It’s not an easy valley to live in. And there’s things that are great about being your own boss, and there’s things that are hard about being your own boss – hours, employees, collecting money, dealing with people. Well actually, dealing with people is probably the best part about it.
CS: How have your first few days been here at the Avon location?
MH: We know a lot of people in the building and I think just from the first days of being open, it’s going to be great. When I first opened up in Minturn I was looking out the door, looking up and down the street for a customer. When I opened up here, they put out an e-mail and we had 60 people walk in the door yesterday. I about freaked out.
CS: I heard that you’re not going to be open on the weekends, why’s that?
MH: I want to ski with my kids.
CS: I like that answer.
MH: It was a hard decision coming to the Seasons, because in Minturn I was open at lunch and I was able to get up and go skiing in the morning and go to work with a smile on my face, instead of having people come in and go, ‘did you get out there and ski the powder?’ But I’ve skied a lot for the past five years. It was time to grow up, time to make a little bit of money. Down the road we’ll get another employee so we can get out and ski more.
CS: Was it hard to go in and start a business in Minturn, hard to break in – get a feel for the people, the town?
MH: To begin with, I had an opportunity to go to Minturn, but I turned it down because I didn’t think that’s where I wanted to be. Then I lost my catering kitchen in Homestead, they turned it into pilates. I went to Minturn and I built the kitchen out there. I put the kitchen together out of a little art gallery and I’m attached to it. I love being in Minturn, it’s got a funky groove. If I had bought a place in Minturn five years ago, I could live there. There’s snowmobiles driving up and down the middle of the street – it’s great.
CS: How old are you?
MH: I just turned 49. I’ve never been heli-skiing. That’s what I want to do on my birthday next year, that’s my goal.
CS: That’s a great goal, a great way to celebrate.
MH: Yeah, standing on the top of some mountain, going, ‘Hey, 50’s not that old.’ Fifty is the new 40, right? VT
Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.