The Mint celebrates 25th anniversary |

The Mint celebrates 25th anniversary

CAITLIN ROWsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

SILVERTHORNE – Telluride. Sometime in the late-1970s. Alcohol. The combination led Tom Ricci to make an extreme decision.He turned to his friend Ken Gansmann while having an aprs-ski beverage and said: “I’m tired of the corporate world. I want to own a restaurant.”Gansmann’s response was, “Have another drink.”Little did they know – almost a decade later the fraternity brothers would join together to start The Mint, a “cook-your-own” restaurant in Silverthorne. And it’s now celebrating its 25th anniversary.You see, in the late-1970s, both men lived in Illinois and had traditional jobs. Ricci sold gigantic computers (remember those?) and Gansmann worked in the oil industry.But, the wheels in Ricci’s head were grinding – he had to get away. So, in 1979, he bought an RV with a buddy and drove to Colorado, visiting all the ski resorts before settling in Vail. There, Ricci and his friend, Willie Welsh, started Rat & Willie’s Bar and Deli. (Ricci’s college nickname – Mouse – “matured” to Rat after graduation.)”Willie had the cook-your-own idea, but we could never find a space over there,” Ricci said. When they finally found an acceptable place in Minturn, Welsh left for “personal reasons,” so Ricci was forced to look for a new business partner.He asked Gansmann first, who was at the time unavailable, so Joe Honnessy got involved and they started The Minturn Country Club – “It was an instant success,” Ricci said, noting they sold steaks, chicken and shark. With The Minturn Country Club blossoming, Ricci expanded his vision to Summit County. He turned to Ann McCreary, a local real-estate agent, who showed him his options. He didn’t see anything he liked, until they drove past The Mint. “What you see today is not what it was,” Ricci said. “The Mint looked like it was going to fall down, and Ann said it had a bad reputation – lots of fights and all.”They went inside and Ricci explored the “knife and gun” biker bar, complete with pool tables and a chain-link fence partitioning off a liquor store.”So I loved it,” Ricci said, with a grin.The same day he looked at The Mint, Ricci’s mother died, so he flew back to Illinois and saw Gansmann at the funeral. He asked him again – “Ken, you should be my silent partner.” Gansmann considered to his wife Jane’s dismay, and then said yes to Ricci’s glee. They were in business – “Jane started crying when she saw the building,” Ricci added. She thought Gansmann was spending their kids’ college fund.They bought and renovated the old building enthusiastically, and it opened in 1984. At first people were scared to come because of its dangerous reputation – there are still slugs in the wall. Other people were confused – they thought a grill-your-own place meant they could bring strings of fish in and literally “grill their own.” So, The Mint started running specials – $1.99 for steaks and other entrees. In the deal’s first night, Ricci said “we did over 200 for dinner, with 93 seats.” With that, The Mint’s success was sealed. So much so, Ricci and Gansmann decided to open the 8th Street Steak House in Steamboat with two other partners.

When The Mint was built in 1862, it served miners living in Kokomo. For unknown reasons, the building moved to Frisco, and then to Dillon with the railroad boom. When the old town of Dillon was destroyed in the 1960s to make way for the Dillon Reservoir, The Mint was saved from demolition and placed in Silverthorne.”I think it’s the oldest building operating in the county,” Ricci said. And both Gansmann and Ricci worked hard to restore it to its original state. The oak bar, a focal point of The Mint, was rescued by Ricci’s wife, who stripped off its brown enamel during the 1984 remodel.Even more surprising than the restaurant’s many locations, Ricci said he determined a familial connection to the historic building after buying it. His ancestor – Stephano Ozella – immigrated from Italy and settled in Kokomo during the 1800s. There he worked as a miner and likely patronized The Mint.”Colorado was a territory then,” Ricci said, noting that when Ozella’s wife arrived in Leadville by train, he sent an Indian woman to “carry” her to Kokomo. “They lived in a tent in the mining camp.”Ricci also recalled when a little old lady rode up to The Mint on horseback, wearing an “old, dirty cowboy hat” and scuffed-up boots. He was renovating The Mint’s interior for opening day, and she came in to explore.”I used to come in here with my dad,” she told Ricci. Her father would drink and play cards at the bar while she – then a small child – played with the girls upstairs. She said she wasn’t sure if they were “working girls,” but guessed there used to be a brothel above the bar.Ricci also alluded to ghostly encounters in The Mint, mentioning that a photo of his grandparents scares the staff. Why? His grandparents’ eyes follow you no matter where you’re standing.Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at

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