It takes a village to brew great coffee
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Charlie Chacos is showing his passion again.Addressing his colleagues at a post-holiday Village Smithy/Bonfire Coffee staff party, Chacos has a hard time not getting all choked up when he speaks of their dedication.”The most important thing about great customer service is the people,” he said, holding back the tears. “And you are the people behind that.”Chacos praises his managing partner and friend, Jared Ettelson, for helping make daily operations at Carbondale’s popular Village Smithy restaurant run smoother than ever, even during the recession.”Our people can make or break everything we do,” he said.He gives proper recognition to Bonfire Coffee assistant manager/barista Shaun Murphy, who sees the art in brewing the perfect cup of Joe. It’s hard for Chacos to hold back when he has so many people – the Smithy typically employs between 30 to 35 people while Bonfire staffs around 10 to 12 – on his team.”That’s what’s nice about being a small town restaurant,” he said. “We’re not a big corporation and we are like family.”
Chacos’ parents, Chris and Terry, started the Village Smithy in 1975. He grew up working at the restaurant that once served as a building for blacksmiths. In 1998, he bought the Smithy from them after studying business and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He garnered additional experience in the food service business working for the Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery chain.”I always kind of vowed I wouldn’t do what I did,” Chacos said. “My father had been working seven days a week for 22 years. It was a labor of love for Chris for sure.”After buying the restaurant, Chacos soon found a faithful, hard-working manager in Ettelson, who attended Carbondale schools from kindergarten all the way through high school.”I was looking for someone to take on the day-to-day operations and Jared was a perfect applicant,” Chacos said. “He was someone who was born and raised here. He knows the Smithy and truly cares about the Smithy. And he had the local connections.”Ettelson brought his own valuable experience working in the restaurant business, including corporate gigs.”I had opened 10 different restaurants in 10 different cities,” Ettelson said.Returning to his beloved hometown of Carbondale to raise kids was a priority for Ettelson, and the Village Smithy proved to be home.”I had patronized the Smithy since I was four years old, and I just had a lot of respect for it,” he said. “It was always the place to be, the place to go. And I had been working at big corporate restaurants, which I wanted to move away from. The last place I had worked for was a 60,000-square-foot bar basically. Raising my kids in Aurora wasn’t how I was raised so it was good to come back and the Smithy was a perfect fit.”Smithy server Amber Sparkles, a long-time employee, appreciates the family approach to the hospitality business Ettelson and Chacos embody in their management style. “Family owned rocks,” she said. “The business has heart and has a lot of loyal locals who follow us, so you get to know everyone in the community better. The owners listen to locals and care how they feel, which is why we have gluten-free options, soy milk and tofu, local beef and organic egg options.”
In August of 2011, Ettelson and Chacos decided to take their expertise in community-focused restaurant ownership to the next level. The pair collaborated to open Bonfire Coffee on Main Street in downtown Carbondale. Chacos said the focus is specializing in the third wave coffee movement, which involves an acute appreciation of the growing, roasting, harvesting and processing of high-quality coffee.”About 10 years ago, we revamped the espresso line of coffees at the Smithy and we really got into coffee, learning about coffee, investigating what coffee had to offer,” Chacos said. “Coffee has always been part of our peripheral.”Chacos and Ettelson are committed to working with growers and guest roasters, especially Defiant Bean Roasters, a Roaring Fork Valley roaster of fresh organic coffees from across the world.”We’re really interested in those companies who have direct trade with the farms,” Chacos said. “Those creating relationships with the farmers and the cooperatives who produce the coffees. These are the best coffees, the premiere hand-picked, hand-sorted coffee beans in the world.”Training baristas by visiting cities such as Seattle and San Francisco, which have embraced the third wave coffee movement, is a priority for Chacos and Ettleson. They are proud to say seven of the 10 current baristas and cooks at Bonfire have been with the bustling coffee shop since the start, showing their dedication to the craft.”This is Charlie’s labor of love,” Ettelson said. “It’s his passion and it’s growing on me.”Chacos said he enjoys sharing his love for coffee with his colleagues.”There are about 24 variables that make a cup of coffee a cup of coffee. There’s also 24 ways to ruin a cup of coffee,” he said. “What is happening is that roasters are realizing the nuances of what coffee should be. It’s a very labor-intensive process to do it correctly.”Bonfire’s dedication to making the perfect cup of coffee is an ongoing process for Chacos and Ettelson. But the fruits of their labor are paying off in full. The coffee house estimates they serve between 200 and 300 customers a day.”It’s about knowledge and knowing,” Chacos said. “It’s a lot more than just putting water through a bean.”For Charlie Chacos, it’s about the love.
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