Sopris Restaurant standing tall after 30 years
Actor Michael Douglas leaves his vegetables untouched when he dines at Sopris Restaurant in Glenwood Springs.Kurt Wigger, owner of the red V-shaped restaurant on Highway 82 and an old friend of Douglas, claims the actor doesn’t eat them as a joke to make him angry – although judging from the smiling, effusive chef, that doesn’t happen too often.”I give all my customers a personal touch,” Wigger said. “It’s nice when the chef comes to the table and asks how things are going.”Sopris recently celebrated its 30th anniversary as the valley’s little slice of Switzerland. Since 1974, the restaurant has offered European fare, ranging from veal forestiére with morels to Wigger’s own secret butter sauce he still makes in a storeroom with the door closed. But the locals, who make up more than half of Sopris’ clientele, are what keeps Wigger on his feet after 42 years as a chef.Linda Stoltzfus, who owns the Best Value Inn and Suites in Glenwood, has indulged in Wigger’s escargot on Friday evenings for 30 years.
“Some restaurants need to have a big deck or view because you’re going there for scenery. But at Sopris, you go there for the food,” she said.”There’s only one Sopris,” said Rosi Huff, owner of Rosi’s Little Bavarian Restaurant in Glenwood and a 29-year patron. “The food is always fabulous – and Kurt is always happy and smiling and congenial when you go there.” The first one in the kitchen in the afternoon, Wigger makes his own dishes from scratch, a consistency that he said makes Sopris unique.”If you come in here and have a meal today, and then come back a year later, you’ll have the same meal,” Wigger said as he sat in one of the restaurant’s traditional dining rooms. With its maroon leather chairs, woodwork and soft red lights, it’s understandable why the restaurant won second place in this year’s Local’s Choice competition for “most romantic getaway.”Wigger grew up in the whirlwind of restaurant life in Zurich, Switzerland, where his parents were both chefs and his three sisters were all waitresses. After training in a Swiss culinary school, he moved to Aspen in 1961. He worked as a chef at the Red Onion Restaurant in Aspen, a celebrity hangout where Wigger got to know stars such as Douglas, John Wayne and the young John Denver, who played at the Onion for $20 an act.Wigger and his wife, Elsbeth, continued the tradition of a “restaurant family” with their two daughters, Susi and Kathie, who have both bussed tables and hostessed off and on since age 14, he said. The couple also owns Buffalo Valley Restaurant and Motel in Glenwood.
“This is all I’ve ever known,” said Susi Wigger, now a resident of Sun Prairie, Wis. “It’s amazing so many businesses come and go and we’ve been through it all.”Her father’s work ethic has made her very proud, Kathie said – and endeared him to his regulars.”We’ll have customers call and say, ‘If Kurt’s not there, we’ll just stop in another time,'” she said. Since Sopris’ opening 30 years ago, Wigger has only employed two bartenders – both have stayed on for more than 15 years. Most of his employees have worked at Sopris for more than a decade.When Gary Trout, 43, went to the restaurant looking for a job as a 14-year-old to support a troubled family, he said Wigger told him to put on an apron and go to work, no questions asked.”Of all the jobs I did outside of this one, I learned this was best,” said Trout, now a cook at the restaurant.
Over 30 years, Wigger has seen the number of restaurants in the Glenwood area explode from very few in the late 1970s to more than 100 today. The boom has made the past two years the toughest economically in Wigger’s career.”I always thought competition was good, but now there’s too much competition,” he said. With rising prices of basic foods like milk, Wigger has had to cut down on costs.But Sopris has endured ups and downs before, and Wigger said the restaurant’s history and local support will keep him going for as long as possible.”Either I’m a fool, or I must love it,” Wigger said. Laughing, he added, “I do love it.”Contact Christine Dell’Amore: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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