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Against the odds

Kimberly Nicoletti

BRECKENRIDGE – Stephanie Bergstrom knew it wouldn’t be easy to open a successful cafe in Breckenridge.

She had seen the signs – both literally and figuratively. She saw the old signs of failed businesses that hang on the walls of Downstairs at Eric’s as well as the financial reality of high overhead.

But Bergstrom has a fiery determination, and after 27 years of working as a waitress, bartender and, later, manager at various restaurants throughout Summit County, she fulfilled her lifetime dream to own a restaurant.

Bergstrom assumed ownership of the Cool River Cafe in Breckenridge from David Crosby in October. She went into it cautiously, spending a year talking to Crosby about various aspects of the business. Before that, she had spent two years looking for the right opportunity.

“It’s been an interesting struggle,” Bergstrom said. “I walked away from a lot of deals for two years solid.”

The main reasons she walked away involved lease prices and care and maintenance fees costing $3,000 to $5,000 a month for the building alone. But the lease price at Cool River was reasonable. And, most importantly, it had the perfect “feel.”

“I like that atmosphere – that home-towny feel of “Fried Green Tomatoes,'” she said. “It’s just a down-home cafe where everyone’s welcome to hang out – even dogs. My biggest theme is I want people to come in, relax and enjoy themselves – be able to read a book, read the paper. It’s where friends meet friends.”

The outdoor garden facing Breckenridge Ski Resort and the creek, as well as a lawn on the side of the cafe, add to the ambiance. When patrons walk through the wrought-iron fence, past the bird bath and into the cafe, the staff treats them like family.

“When I first walked into the Cool River, I felt comfortable,” said Lizzie Cochrane, a daily patron. “It has a very good aura – to be very new-agey about it. All the people who work here really care about working here. You’re always greeted right away.”

The personable service mirrors Bergstrom’s outgoing personality.

“I love people,” Bergstrom said. “I’ve been in the (restaurant) business for over 30 years. People bring in their families, and you get to meet them from all over the world. That’s the coolest thing about Breckenridge. It’s not about money for me. It’s about people.”

Her dedication shows in her demanding schedule. She wakes up at 3:30 a.m., starts baking the croissants, muffins, cakes, bars, quiches and other specialities at 4:30 a.m., sets everything in the cases at 6:30 a.m. and opens the door to the first early-morning coffee drinkers at 7 a.m. Seven days a week, she’s there serving breakfast and lunch until 5 p.m., then cleaning and finally leaving at 7 p.m.

But she does take a few hours a day to run errands, hike or ski and spend time with her 17-year-old daughter and her husband of 24 years.

She met her husband, Jonathan, a massage therapist, when he was a ski instructor at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

“I met him dancing on the bar at the AR (Angel’s Rest, where she first worked when she moved to Breckenridge in 1976),” she said. “I came out, did my dream – married my ski instructor and stuck with it.”

And, now, she’s sticking with her other dream – Cool River.

“What has kept me going up here is that my husband bought me a hot tub and a deck,” she said. “I’m serious about that. I get a chance to relax and soak – let the day wash over me, as it were.”

Apparently, the hot tub does wonders for her disposition.

“She’s such an energetic, powerful person,” Cochrane said. “She just has a light that shines from her. She’s a beacon.”

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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