Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series about the history of the Peak 9 Restaurant. Visit www.summitdaily.com to read the first part.
The Peak 9 Restaurant has been a home away from home for many who have moved to or passed through Breckenridge, whether it was for one season or many decades. Patrons return year after year for the welcoming atmosphere and friendly greetings from owner Kevin Brown.
Dot Fears and her husband, Byron, moved to the mountains outside of Lyons on the Front Range about five years ago. They’ve been skiing Breckenridge for upward of 15 years, originally making the trip from Hawaii. Byron said there’s not a day the two ski Breckenridge that they don’t visit Peak 9 Restaurant.
“That’s the place that we go to because we like the non-corporate atmosphere there and the nice service,” Dot said. “We like the craft draft beer they have on tap there, and we do happen to know one of the bartenders, he’s an old-time friend. We’ve gotten to know some of the other folks — it’s just a friendly place that we stop, and we’re going to be sad to see it go.”
Byron said he likes the diversity of the menu at the restaurant and its affordable prices. He also said Brown’s ability to hire employees who “don’t fit the corporate mold” gives the place personality.
“They’ve got interesting food, really nice people working there, they aren’t all getting minimum wage,” Byron said. “The people working for Breckenridge or Vail (Resorts), they just have a job, but the people up there take a lot of pride in what they do. I think that’s part of it; having such a real person makes a little difference there. Being able to interact with the owner instead of eating at another corporate restaurant. I’m sad to see it go.”
Larry Thomas, of Naples, Fla., said Peak 9 Restaurant is his favorite spot to hang out when he’s on the mountain. Thomas stumbled into Breckenridge by accident when he was looking to purchase a mountain home, intending to browse in Vail or Aspen, and he never left. He’s lived here part time since 1985 and said Peak 9 is his favorite spot to grab a bite because of the staff.
“I think my favorite thing about it is the way (Brown) has managed to maintain the staff over the many, many years that they have owned and run it,” he said. “There are people who have worked there for decades, and the friendliness and the personal service sticks out, as opposed to the more cafeteria style or impersonal style that mountain restaurants are usually run.
“That’s one of the things I always enjoyed about it. If you had a special request or something you had before and maybe it’s not featured right then, their desire and ability to attempt to accommodate you has always been a hallmark of the hospitality that they brought to Breckenridge.”
Thomas said the attitude of the owner trickles down through the staff.
“It’s the way they treat their customers and go above and beyond the call of duty, whether you’re here for one day or they are going to see you 100 times during the season,” he said.
Laurie Phillips, of Savannah, Ga., said she and her husband, Aaron, have been visiting Peak 9 Restaurant for years and love all the people who work there.
“I love Kevin, and Mike the bartender, and I always get to know the people at the cash registers,” she said with a laugh. “I recognize everyone who works there, even if I don’t know all their names.
“It feels like home, and I’m going to miss everybody there, and I don’t know if it’s going to feel the same way as it has. The food’s good, prices are reasonable, it has a very relaxed atmosphere. When I go into the other restaurants, it doesn’t have the same feeling. You’re in there with all the tourists. I’m a tourist, but we’ve been going there for so many years that it feels like a second home.”
Reed Stilwell, of Denver, said he can’t pinpoint one particular thing about Peak 9 that keeps his family coming back but said it seems like the place is always filled with “townies.” Brown’s presence and personality add to the warmth of the restaurant, Stilwell said.
“You feel like you’re walking into someone’s cabin or something. It’s a pretty mellow, nice place to be. That’s why we go there all the time,” he said. “It feels like everyone is pretty friendly; it feels like you are being welcomed in as an old friend. … It’s the vibe of the place that we continually return to. It feels like a local joint, and it’s very personal compared with the establishments on the mountain.”
Stilwell said Peak 9 is great for kids because the meals have a good variety — “not just those chicken nugget things” — and kids can always find something they like. He and his family have been going to the restaurant regularly for about eight years, beginning when his son, Isaac, was a tyke.
“Once he was able to ride the chairlifts and get to that terrain, when he was 4 or 5, that was the only place he would eat,” Stilwell said. “He’s go really sensitive ears, and the music and the scene in all those joints is so intense and base-lodgy, he didn’t like how loud the other places were.”
And it’s not just Stilwell’s kids who love Peak 9.
“One of the things I like best about it is, quite often, all of the racer kids are palling around downstairs,” he said. “They leave their bags there, all their stuff is there — it’s just like a mountain home for a lot of different kinds of people. There’s clearly enough trust and good will they can leave their backpacks in the corner and pick up their gear. It’s pretty great.”
People from out of town and even out of state prefer the food at Peak 9 Restaurant, Stilwell said, citing a moment on the chairlift when one dad recommended to another that he take the kids there for “the best food on the mountain.”
“The food is not quite like home cooked, but it’s nicely made. It’s not fancy; it’s good, basic food. Our kids love the chili. He’s not quite a future chef,” Stilwell said of his son, “but he’s got a very distinct taste of things he likes. He won’t eat the chili elsewhere, but he likes the chili at Peak 9.”
Phillips also raved about the homemade soups, and she is one of many who will miss the restaurant’s $2.50 cups of coffee, a bargain at less than half the price of other mountain restaurants.
John Albertine, of Annapolis, Md., said he and his wife, Penny, agree that the soups are wonderful and Brown trains his staff well. The Albertines are largely retired and have been renting a house in Breckenridge for the past 10 years. John said Brown runs a first-class restaurant and he’s sad to see it go.
“We’ve very much enjoyed Peak 9 Restaurant,” he said. “I always enjoyed their soups and the bread bowls, those were always a good hit during midday. And the pastries, which I didn’t eat every day — I didn’t dare — and just visiting Kevin.”
Reed McClintock, of Marin County, near San Francisco, said the past several years he’s probably skied 50 days at Breckenridge and every day he eats at Peak 9.
“The food is fabulous; it’s way superior to anything that the Vail-owned restaurants do,” he said. “It’s about 60 percent of the price, and that restaurant has fabulous views. I never eat anywhere else.”
Though many will miss the food and the staff and the vibe of Peak 9 Restaurant, patrons were unanimous that the biggest loss to come of the change in ownership is not seeing Brown’s friendly face greeting customers every day.
“Kevin is a really good friend, a really friendly person, a helpful person, a considerate person, from my interactions with him,” said Ryan Biondo, of Colorado Springs, adding that he’s known Brown for about four years. “He expects a lot from his employees, in terms of professionalism and keeping a tight-run establishment, keeping it clean. He sets the bar very high as a proprietor of the establishment.”
Albertine described Brown as “a very personable, pleasant fella.”
“He knows an amazing amount of the customers who come through there,” he said. “He trains his staff very, very well; they obviously like him. He knows how to run a fine restaurant. We just wish him the best in his retirement, if he knows how to retire, no idea what he’s going to start up next.”
McClintock said he’s known Brown really well the past 10 or 15 years and they’ve talked about getting together and playing some golf down in Palm Desert, Calif., after he retires.
“I don’t have any particular anecdote or anything I can regale your ears with,” he said. “He always goes out of his way to come over to me and chat. We really hit it off since Day 1. I wish him well and hope to spend some time with him in the future as a friend, in addition to being a patron for all these years.”
Byron Fears said he’d like to see Brown go out with a bang, and he and Dot will be at Peak 9 this weekend doing their best to make sure that happens.
“Go give Kevin a great sendoff, all the staff there, show the support they have had all these years,” he said. “It’s great they’re going out on such an outrageous ski season with all the snow — give him a big, fond farewell; he deserves it.”
Biondo said he would be at Peak 9 on Sunday to say goodbye, too.
He said 40 years is a long time and he wants to wish Brown the best of luck in retirement.
“We’re looking forward to it, but it’s definitely bittersweet,” he said. “It won’t be the same next year. … I think the atmosphere will be a lot different, the type of atmosphere for us and our close friends and even friends we made week to week as we sat up there and hung out at the bar. That locals’ feel — I don’t get that other places up on the hill, plus having the porch on the nice spring skiing day will be missed with close friends.”