The new restaurant filling The Wild Fig’s space will have an old familiarity to it, but only because its ownership is lifting the very concept its predecessor established nearly two decades ago.
Aspen restaurateurs have expressed that frustration ever since they learned that the expansion of what’s being billed as the AspenHaus project calls for a restaurant named Le Bateau that will serve French and Mediterranean fare.
Set for a June opening, Le Bateau is part of a larger endeavor on the 300 block of East Hyman Avenue by the Colorado-based Gravity Haus company, which has other locations in Breckenridge (where it started in 2019), Vail, Winter Park, Steamboat Springs, Denver and Truckee, California, near Tahoe.
For the Cordts-Pearce couple, who are working to reopen a new Wild Fig next door later this summer or early fall, the announcement of Le Bateau’s launch has been as much a head-scratcher as it has been frustrating: Why serve essentially the same type of Old World cuisine The Wild Fig serves? Why not recreate Le Bateau’s space instead of staying with the European-styled atmosphere imagined by the Cordts-Pearces? Why do this immediately next door to the new Wild Fig? And lastly, why go off-brand with a restaurant concept that isn’t used at the other Gravity Haus locales?
“Personally, I would be embarrassed if I was them (Gravity Haus), the fact they couldn’t hire a designer to put their own twist on it,” said Craig Cordts-Pearce.
“They knew that we were moving next door with our concept, and they are basically just piggybacking off the 20-year success of a local business and not changing a thing, when we’re just moving the concept next door,” said Samantha Cordts-Pearce.
There will be some changes, actually. Le Bateau will have new chairs and tables, the couple said.
The Gravity’s Haus’s media relations department did not return messages and Gordon Bronson, a native local who is the face of the Aspen project, responded Friday with a text message that said: “Thank you for your reaching out. I am out of office with limited cell till next week. We look forward to welcoming you to try our new concept, Le Bateau in June. We are excited to join Aspen’s vibrant dining community with our 7th new concept. This one led by Michelin star awarded chef Adam Howard. Happy to share the seasonal menu we will open with when chef has it finalized.”
According to a May 22 article in the Aspen Daily News, “AspenHaus project continues at Wheeler Square building,” Bronson said Le Bateau would be carving out its own identity.
“At the end of the day, we're really committed to having a space that has its own identity, feels like Gravity House, feels like our brand, and so when people come in, they'll see a different experience in there,” he said “And I mean, those guys (the Cordts-Pearces) ran a great restaurant, you know, wish them the best of luck next door, and we're excited to put our own mark on the space.”
The AspenHaus complex also includes the space once nicknamed as “The Compound” for the four haunts located under the same roof — Su Casa, Eric’s, the Cigar Bar and Aspen Billiards.
The Gravity Haus concept isn’t a carbon copy at every location, but its overarching purpose is to offer a social club for mountain and fitness enthusiasts with co-working space, a cafe, restaurant, and workout and health amenities. Some locations include lodging.
The Aspen location does not, but it debuted Unravel Coffee and Bar in December. Le Bateau is part of the second phase of the AspenHaus project. This will be the Gravity Haus’s first go at Old World/Mediterranean cuisine; its other restaurants have a different focus, such as the Slope Room in Vail, which serves steak, lamb, chicken, pork and seafood entrees, among others.
Popularized by its European cuisine, especially French and Mediterranean inspired, and boasting interior and outdoor atmospheres to match, The Wild Fig opened in late 2003 and went on to endure the ups and downs of Aspen’s hyper-competitive restaurant scene, whether during the Great Recession or the global pandemic. Under the Cordts-Pearces’ ownership, it operated at 315 E. Hyman Ave. across from the Wheeler Opera House until closing at the end of ski season in April.
The Cordts-Pearces said they initially understood AspenHaus would not open a restaurant in the old Wild Fig location, and that the Gravity Haus plan was to convert the space into a VIP lounge of sorts for its guests.
“They changed their tune somewhere along the line that it would have to become a restaurant for them,” said Craig Cordts-Pearce.
And not just any old restaurant.
“We found out a week before we had to be out that they’d changed their plans,” Samantha Cordts-Pearce said, adding that “basically they took the easy road out, off of our backs, and they just don’t care.”
From the wall’s white tiles to the flower boxes that beautify the outdoor dining area, or even the restaurant’s white marble bar to the black doors, the old Wild Fig’s physical ambience in the new Le Bateau will be evident to longtime diners, the couple said. It’s obvious already to Craig Cordts-Pearce.
“It’s not out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “It’s a constant reminder everyday while I’m building the Wild Fig next door that these people smacked me in my face and said, ‘Eff you,’ I’m doing the Wild Fig with a different name.’”
The Cordts-Pearces considered the old Wild Fig’s tiles and bar theirs, until a lawyer notified their lawyer that most of the interior features belonged to the new tenant.
“The original idea was that I was going to take everything out of the restaurant, and they weren’t going to have a restaurant there. I was going to take the tile down because it’s really hard to find old tile that’s cracked, and I was just going to take it down and re-use it next door,” said Craig Cordts-Pearce.
“I have a very successful restaurant,” Craig Cordts-Pearce said. “There’s nothing wrong with The Wild Fig concept. The new location is going to be better and it’s going to be a little bit bigger … we’re excited about The Wild Fig moving. Wild Fig 2.0 is going to be just a little bit bigger, but it’s still going to be cozy with the white tiles and it’s going to be very European, which is what my design was for the whole time.”
They’re also well acquainted with the location, where they previously ran the restaurants D-19 and Above the Salt. Launching a restaurant from scratch is nothing new for the couple, who also create the concepts and the interior design. They’re also hands-on workers.
The Wild Fig was the first restaurant the couple opened in Aspen. On Monday, as the two gazed at old photos of when it opened, they recalled the hard work they put into it. The two were sitting at the bar of their Steakhouse No. 316 restaurant in Aspen, which used to be Lulu Wilson. Before opening Steakhouse No. 316, they redid the old Victorian’s interior, putting their own mark on the restaurant.
“We don’t come from big money. When we opened Wild Fig, I don’t even want to tell you how we had to scramble. I met Craig when he was a busboy and I was a bartender in town. We saved every penny to open The Wild Fig. We don’t have money for designers and contractors. Craig has built every single one of his restaurants with his own hands,” Samantha Cordts-Pearce said. “We’ve designed them all, we’ve decided what we want the cuisine to be, then found a chef to do our kind of cuisine. We’re hands-on owners.”
Rick Carroll I Aspen Daily News I May 31, 2023