The former Starbucks space on the corner of Cooper Avenue and Mill Street has a new tenant. Mawa McQueen will open another Crepe Shack at the location, expanding her budding culinary empire at last to the downtown Aspen core.
“I think the universe was fighting for us and as a local small business,” said McQueen. “I’m so fortunate to be in this community that’s given me so much. I can’t believe, after 20 years of being here, fighting for a space in town, it’s finally happening. That’s why I say never give up. Never give up.”
A chef and entrepreneur, she owns and operates Mawa’s Kitchen at the Aspen Airport Business Center, along with Mawita and The Crepe Shack in Snowmass Base Village. She has been looking for a space in Aspen’s core for years, but the changing economics in town and high demand for retail and restaurant space in the core at premium prices, exacerbated by the influx of new residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, had left her shut out.
She’s been working with longtime friend, local commercial and residential real estate broker Angi Wang through many disappointments.
“We’ve been looking for space for her since pre-COVID, and the last couple of spaces just didn’t pan out,” said Wang. “I think it was well worth the wait because this was the best one so far. It’s an amazing location, right on the park with a lot of foot traffic, and it was already built out to be a café.”
After four years in operation, the Starbucks in Aspen shut down in the face of unpaid debt by franchisee Manhattan Capital.
Out-of-state proprietors with deeper pockets showed plenty of interest, and it seemed unlikely that a local, independently-operated business would have the resources to secure the lease.
“My husband, Daniel, saw an ad for the old Starbucks, and I called my Realtor, Angi, and she said, ‘Don’t even bother, so many people want it,’ so I just let it go,” McQueen said. “Angi called me a few days later and asked, ‘Are you still interested because Tony said he’d like a local person as the new tenant.'”
Both McQueen and Wang credited Tony Mazza, a partner at M&W Properties, for making it possible for McQueen to take over the space.
“I didn’t think it could happen for me, or that I would have the resources,” McQueen said. “But I went to see the space, and Tony called me and said, ‘I’m going to tell you, Mawa, you’re local, and you are highly regarded here, and I want to do this for you.’ This was the nicest thing ever. If Tony didn’t give me the opportunity, I could not have done it. A lot of people are out there talking about how they want to help locals, but he really put his money where his mouth is.”
Then, she said, the community rallied around her; and with the help of Wang and Alpine Bank, she was able to close the deal in 10 days.
“I think it’s important to support local business,” said Wang. “We are losing that charm of what Aspen’s known for and why people move here. It’s why I moved here. So I don’t want that to go away. If I can help in any way to keep locals in business, I will do my best.”
Now McQueen’s focus is on getting the business up and running by May 28 – in time for the busy summer season – and she wants to get the word out for those looking for work that she is hiring.
“Everybody should apply who needs a job,” she said. “Parents: Send your high school-aged kids who need a summer job or those home from college. I’m a good trainer and good mentor to whoever joins my team.”
The additional The Crepe Shack location will feature the same menu and concept as the one in Snowmass, along with a few tweaks to cater to the Aspen core market.
Luckily, she can keep the interior pretty much as is, with small adjustments, to accommodate her crepe and cafe concept, she said.
The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offer everything from local Bonfire Coffee to homemade pastries, quiche, and crepes, including vegan and gluten-free options. She will also offer grab-and-go options for those pressed for time.
McQueen also plans to lean into her Parisian roots and French culinary training and add treats like macarons and eclairs.
“I really want to recreate a memory of what it’s like to be in France because that’s where I grew up,” she said. “We will have a patio planted with lavender bushes that will be super nice and chic. It will be a place the community and families can come together and watch life go by. I want to create sweet memories, one crepe at a time. That’s what I want.”
By: Sarah Girgis | The Aspen Times \ April 12, 2023