Copper Mountain Resort’s Michael Zehnder honored by ski industry for culinary skills
The restaurant industry is known for making or breaking a lot of people, but for Michael Zehnder of Copper Mountain Resort, his decision to enter the restaurant industry was one of the best decisions he ever made.
Zehnder started working in restaurants when he was just 14 years old, starting at the bottom of the totem pole but gradually working his way up in the industry for the past 23 years.
“Honestly, my friend’s older brother’s girlfriend had a job, and I just got into it to have a paycheck,” Zehnder said. “I started as a dishwasher and pizza cook. A year later, they trained me on the line doing saute and grill, and I just loved it.”
Zehnder’s love for working in restaurants progressed into becoming a chef and his hard work paid off as he was recognized as the Food and Beverage Professional of the Year by Colorado Ski Country U.S.A. at the organization’s 59th annual Double Diamond Awards on June 9.
The Double Diamond Awards seeks to recognize a wide array of ski resort employees including industry veterans, up-and-coming winter athletes and terrain professionals.
Coaches, resort supervisors and managers nominate one candidate for one of the eight award categories. Zehnder faced some tough competition from across the state of Colorado but was ultimately given the award for his expertise in the kitchen over the last two years.
Prior to becoming a chef at Copper Mountain, Zehnder worked at Keystone Resort as a chef for seven years.
“Our director here at Copper, Amy Geppi, was my director at Keystone,” Zehnder said. “I worked for her there, and when she came over to Copper they had this restaurant with a new concept, so she reached out”
Geppi asked if Zehnder would be interested in being an executive chef at Copper Mountain Resort, and Zehnder gladly accepted. Once at Copper Mountain Resort, Zehnder began the process of managing and designing Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse.
Upon arriving to Copper Mountain a little under two years ago, Zehnder was tasked with starting Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse from scratch with just a vision on what Copper Mountain wanted the restaurant to become.
Zehnder decided the menus, recipes, oversaw the acquisition of new cooking equipment and worked closely with the front of the house. Zehnder says the process took an entire winter season in order to fine tune and figure out what was going to work long term.
After a full season of experimentation this past season, Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse truly became what Copper Mountain Resort had envisioned when Zehnder was handed over the reins as the chef of the restaurant.
According to Copper Mountain Resort and Colorado Ski County U.S.A., under the direction of Zehnder, Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse “almost immediately became one of Copper’s most popular dining locations, receiving excellent scores for the food quality.”
Serving signature pizza, Italian staples and cocktails, the restaurant serves as a nice sit-down restaurant after a long day on the mountain.
One of Zehnder’s biggest challenges in opening the restaurant was learning how to manage people on a daily basis.
“Really moving up to the next step was figuring out how to manage a kitchen as a whole — better,” Zehnder said. “Managing the employees and setting up the kitchens so they flowed better for everyone.”
Now that Zehnder is more comfortable with managing a restaurant staff, Zehnder says his favorite part of his job is leading his team.
“It’s been quite the ride so far,” Zehnder said. “We are the busiest full-service restaurant at Copper. Through all those trials and errors, having good staff and taking their input — it has been great.”
Zehnder feels honored to be recognized by Colorado Ski Country U.S.A. for the hard work he and his team have put into Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse. Zehnder hopes that the restaurant will continue to be recognized as a restaurant that serves the needs and wants of the public.
“Continue those trials and errors, continue to receive guest feedback and pretty much give the people what they want.” Zehnder said.
Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse is open daily in Copper Mountain Resort’s Center Village from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. To view menus or find out more information about the restaurant visit CopperColorado.com.
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