Aurum opens in Breckenridge intent on being the gold standard of restaurant experiences

Phillips Armstrong makes final touches of table setting before opening the doors for the evening at the Aurum Food and Wine Thursday, Aug. 30, in Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey /

The founder of a new high-end restaurant in Breckenridge is so focused on the guest experience, he made time to ensure his staff got some experience of their own.

Before opening Aurum Food & Wine in Breckenridge, a construction delay allowed the restaurant’s founder, Phillips Armstrong, time to take his management team to New York, where they ate incredible meals, worked at some of the finest restaurants and even got a little face time with Armstrong’s idol — renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer — and Meyer’s executive team.

“He was gracious enough to give us an hour with his executive team, and it was like — I can’t even put it into words,” Armstrong said of the fieldtrip. “That four days in New York was such a bonding experience for this team, and we worked in such incredible restaurants; it was like a dream trip for all of us.”

The biggest takeaway, Armstrong concluded, was that the restaurant business is moving past the baseline requirements — great food, friendly service and a nice atmosphere — to become more about the guest experience.

“We get it; we’re the new kid in town,” Armstrong said of Aurum. “We’re not claiming that we’re doing anything different — like we didn’t change the world with our tables, our glasses or our lighting — but I want people to come here because we’re constantly trying to come up with ways to surprise them.”

Armstrong started Aurum Food & Wine in Steamboat Springs about five years ago. He opened a second location last month in Breckenridge. So far, the Breckenridge restaurant has received a wealth of wonderful reviews on Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor, earning perfect scores from almost everyone who’s rated the restaurant since its opening.

“Among significant competition, this place is striving to be the best,” wrote one of those critics, who applauded Aurum’s attention to detail, customer service and cuisine, adding that the upside-down peach cake was “extremely special and unique.”

Speaking with Armstrong, that’s exactly what he wants — for people to feel like Aurum is a unique restaurant that’s special, whether it’s the impressive wine list organized by music genre, plates presented like pieces of artwork or the overall dining experience.

“It’s beyond the experience,” Armstrong added. “Really, it’s how did we make you feel? Did you meet the owner? Did you meet the chef? Do you have a cool story? Did you feel like you got more than what you expected?”

And he’s empowered his staff to act the like. For executive chef Korey Sims, feeding this effort means going out to the tables when he can, painstakingly crafting an ever-evolving menu or giving out his recipes should someone want to try to re-create one of his dishes at home.

Beyond that, Sims has made dishes specific to order, including allowing for people to call the restaurant ahead of time with special requests for things like vegetarian items not on the menu.

Like pilots showing off the cockpit, Sims has been offering individual tours of Aurum’s kitchen to children interested in becoming chefs someday and to curious customers who just wanted to see the restaurant’s inner-workings.

Another way Armstrong said they’re crafting guest experiences is by offering customers a chance at “a golden ticket.” It’s a play on the restaurant’s name since the Latin word for gold is “aurum,” but to find out exactly what these tickets bring, lucky recipients will just have to ask their servers.

“We might take you down in the kitchen and have you help plate a course with the chef,” Armstrong said, explaining that a golden ticket isn’t any kind of predefined prize but an opportunity to make a dinner party’s night that much more memorable, however that might happen.

For example, the staff at Aurum might get word one of their guests absolutely loves whiskey, Armstrong said. “That’s going to get whispered down the alley to a manager, and the next thing you know, there’s going to be four different types of whiskies that we’re going to have you taste.”

All of this comes with the aforementioned baseline requirements of a good restaurant, along with a host of simple, everyday touches. It might be the local artwork adorning the walls, having chef Sims come out to a table to pour a sauce over a dish or the lotion, mouthwash and high-end soap found in the bathrooms.

Armstrong said he knows these extras might not be much singularly, but collectively he hopes they will add up to show people Aurum aims to take the guest experience to the next level, if not further.

“I just want you to leave feeling like you got something a little more than just a dinner,” he said. “We can’t do it with every single table, but every opportunity we can, we’re going to blow your mind.”

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