Sweetwater Grill is sold; new concept to open in May
March 18, 2014
At a glance
Restaurant: Aurum Food & Wine
Cuisine: Seasonal new American, with a Colorado-focused craft cocktail and beer program and regional American wine program.
Offerings: Lunch and dinner seven days per week during the summer with dinner seven days per week in the winter.
Contact: 970-879-9500 or http://www.aurumsteamboat.com (coming soon)
Steamboat Springs — The lineup of restaurants on Yampa Street is undergoing another major shift, with Sweetwater Grill being sold and a new concept set to open in the riverside space in May.
Sweetwater owner Kim Haggarty said she still will own the building, but her restaurant will close March 31. Haggarty's newest venture, a music venue on Lincoln Avenue called Schmiggity's, will learn more about its potential open date around that time.
The Sweetwater Grill business is being purchased by Phil Armstrong, who has been involved with restaurants since he was 13 and has significant experience in corporate restaurant and hospitality operations as well as being a partner in HUSH Concepts, a pop-up restaurant that operated in Denver for a few years through 2012.
Armstrong is no stranger to Steamboat Springs, having had contacts in the area for years, previously missing out on another Yampa Street space and once seeking the Yacht Club before it became Sweetwater Grill.
Armstrong said he always has kept a finger on the Steamboat market, and the deal with Haggarty came out of an initial conversation about consulting.
"After sifting through my entire career," Armstrong said, "this restaurant is really like my gold."
The name of Armstrong's new restaurant is Aurum Food & Wine — aurum being the Latin word for gold and Au being the symbol for the chemical element of gold.
Armstrong described the concept for Aurum as seasonal new American cuisine. In the kitchen will be Executive Chef Chase Wilbanks, who was the executive sous chef at Shanahan’s in Denver and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Wilbanks “and I really want to see a restaurant that's hyper seasonal," Armstrong said. "We want to highlight product at its peak."
Armstrong also said he wants Aurum to be a reflection of the Steamboat community and a guest-driven restaurant, instead of chef-driven.
"I want to turn fine dining on its head," he said. "I want it to be fun."
The menu will change often, and Armstrong also said he has plans to do things that make the restaurant engaging.
One of those plans is to price 25 bottles of wine at about $50. Diners could buy the bottle by the quarter, half or full bottle. Whatever portion of the bottle isn't purchased will go up on a chalkboard open to bids from the rest of the restaurant.
"We want people to have an experience," Armstrong said. "Great food and wine and service is almost the baseline nowadays."
His vision for Aurum is to make people excited to go out to dinner in an interactive space.
The restaurant still will have some live music, Armstrong said, but it mainly will be focused on dining experience.
Armstrong also said he's excited about the mix of existing restaurants and new places opening along Yampa Street.
"I think that's a great thing if we can create this little restaurant row down there," he said.
Using the example of Pearl Street in Boulder, Armstrong said people don't decide where they will eat ahead of time. Instead "they decide to go to Pearl Street, then they pick and choose."
Armstrong met with the existing Sweetwater staff Monday afternoon, and Haggarty said she was impressed with his introduction.
Restaurant staff is like a family, Armstrong said, so he initially was concerned with how potentially breaking up that family would go.
Armstrong is bringing in staff he's worked with before but also said he thought there are some good staff members at Sweetwater who might enjoy being part of the new venture.
"I want people who are sincerely consumed with food and wine," Armstrong said.
The building will close from April 1 until May for paint and decor changes that Armstrong said are intended to differentiate the feel of the restaurant.
Aurum will be obsessed with hospitality, he added.
While hospitality is broadly defined as an industry, Armstrong defines it as the way people will feel when they're at Aurum.
Every business is a service or a product, he said, and Aurum will focus on hospitality.
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