Restaurant groups entering the Aspen market will often tout how the business will welcome and serve the local community, with an emphasis on “local.”
While this sentiment may be loosely interpreted, Maryanne and Harley Sefton — the husband-wife duo behind Parc Aspen, a farm-to-table concept opening late summer in the space that for 25 years was home to L’Hostaria — are putting their money where their mouth is.
“Bringing local back to Aspen” is not just Parc’s tagline; it’s the Seftons’ sole motivation for retiring from retirement to start a restaurant.
“There’s only a handful of local restaurants left … so many have disappeared,” Harley Sefton said, listing more than a dozen spots that have shuttered in recent years. A former investment manager who first visited town in 1976, Harley spent several months a year in Aspen for two decades until he and Maryanne moved here full-time in 2017.
“It just made us sad,” said Maryanne, an ex-CPA, of the closures. She noted that two particular favorites and longtime institutions, Jimmy’s and L’Hostaria — both of which closed in the latter half of last year — felt like the nails in the coffin, and consequently, the catalyst for Parc.
After signing a 10-year-lease on the subterranean space, the Seftons focused on tackling one of the valley’s greatest challenges: employee housing.
Recognizing a housing crisis that’s already grown “out of control,” Maryanne said, the couple vowed to find some solution rather than only contribute to the problem. In May, the Seftons bought three two-bedroom condominiums at the base of Aspen Highlands to house Parc staff. They are now remodeling the units and expect employees to move in beginning July 1.
Housing as it is available, health insurance, paid vacation and the opportunity for growth are among the benefits promised to Parc staff.
“We want to instill careers in our staff,” Maryanne said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”
Mental health — another prominent ongoing issue in the valley — also is a priority for Parc. The Seftons are working on a formal partnership with Aspen Strong, a mental health advocacy nonprofit, that aims to break stigmas through prevention resources, education, policy change and community connection, according to its site. While specifics of the arrangement are still being determined, a philanthropic component is one part of the plan, said the restaurant’s marketing and public relations director Camille Carlin, who also is Maryanne and Harley’s daughter. Camille left her job at Google to assume the role and help her parents open Parc, adding a family element to the business.
“We want to really encourage our employees to voice where they’re at and to feel that they have support to seek the support they need to make sure they remain happy and healthy,” Camille said.
She cited recent local news coverage of valley residents reporting poor mental health as well as Pitkin County’s suicide rate.
“Our employees are our No. 1 priority. After that comes the guests,” Maryanne said, noting that a healthy work environment will translate to a positive guest experience. “Mental health is 100% our focus. I think a lot of people don’t prioritize this enough in hospitality, and for us, hospitality is all about humanity.”
Along with Aspen Strong, Parc is teaming up with area farmers and community-supported agriculture groups to locally source as many ingredients and products as possible.
Parc executive chef Mark Connell is securing those partnerships, which so far includes Two Roots Farm, Sustainable Settings, Kinikin Processing and Farm Runners.
“There’s been a change in food culture in the U.S.,” Connell said. “A lot of people are becoming more aware of what they’re consuming and what’s going on with the food that they’re eating and how hard it is on the environment.”
Connell, who joined Parc after working in the kitchens at The Snow Lodge and Casa D’Angelo, described the menu as “New American cuisine using traditional and modern techniques.” As examples, he pointed to dishes like organic chicken and mushroom pot pie in a house-made puff pastry with goat butter and Colorado-striped bass with cauliflower couscous, leek soubise, spinach and pickled golden raisins.
Admitting that he was a little skeptical at first, Connell recently sampled baby shrimp from a shrimp farm outside Colorado Springs. To his surprise, the contaminant-free seafood was “super delicious.”
Asked what the farm-to-table approach will look like in the winter, Connell said he is still figuring that out, but he will ultimately “build the menu around what’s available.” He intends to plant tomatoes at the end of summer and can them for the months to follow.
Throughout the process, the Seftons have solicited the experience and expertise of local restaurant veterans: Jimmy Yeager of his eponymous “Jimmy’s” and his business partner Jessica Lischka; Jimmy’s former master sommelier Greg Van Wagner, now Parc’s master somm and director of beverage and wine; and Ryan Noakes, formerly of the Creperie.
Noakes helped design Parc’s bar area with the goal of it serving as “Aspen’s living room,” like its predecessor, Maryanne said. While the space is undergoing an extensive renovation, the section that functioned as L’Hostaria’s beloved bar area will remain as a dedicated “locals’ bar” with an affordable bar menu that will be offered throughout the restaurant.
“We’ve been discussing [the bar menu] at length,” Maryanne said. “Throughout our entire lease, we will remain committed to have dinner options within the $15 and under $20 range. The idea is that [a patron] should be able to come in, enjoy dinner and a beverage, alcoholic or otherwise, and get out for under $30.”
With Aspen prices traditionally reflecting exorbitant and rising rent costs, Maryanne admitted, “It’s not easy, but that is a priority.”
All told, the restaurant will feature three distinct dining experiences: The locals’ bar, contemporary “finer dining” in the main room and a private dining room booked by reservation. Catering to all demographics of the Aspen population, the Seftons are hopeful that the finer and private dining will help, in part, offset bar menu costs.
In any event, to call Parc a “passion project” for the couple would be an accurate assessment.
“I think a lot of people are really into the bottom line … which will happen, with patience, but we don’t have a formula for, ‘If we don’t make it by this day,’” Maryanne said. “We’re in this with our eyes wide open.”