By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
As word of Town restaurant’s impending closure began to spread, Mark Fischer imagined how nice it would be if he could sit down and explain everything at one big table.
Some would see sitting down with the newspaper as almost the same thing, but Fischer isn’t sure there’s a story here — at least not a controversial one. The mind and money behind not just Town, but also Phat Thai across the street and The Pullman in Glenwood, he’s Carbondale’s version of a celebrity chef and knows the realities of the business. While he’s sensitive to the concerns of the customers and particularly the staff, he’s not into assigning blame.
“At the end of the day, things need to pencil out in a way that makes sense,” he explained. “It’s really hard for me to justify signing a lease that makes it harder to provide a living wage.”
That said, closing for good after Oct. 21 — with morning service potentially wrapping up earlier — wasn’t part of the plan.
“Every decision we made until about a week ago was predicated on the idea that we’d be here for a while,” Fischer said.
Unlike Six 89, Fischer’s first venture in Carbondale, Town has not had a 15-year run to realize its potential. Back then, rent was cheaper, food service employees were more plentiful and there wasn’t any other fine dining to speak of on Main Street. Fischer declines to take credit for anticipating or starting a trend — he was just sick of the commute to Aspen.
“I was surprised by the amount of attention it got,” he recalled. “It was great when other people started putting restaurants on Main Street. The more the merrier.”
Town’s 348 Main St. location was originally renovated from its Ship-of-Fools era layout to accommodate Ella, then hosted Hestia (which lives on in The Goat and The Pig). In some ways, it has been viewed as a successor to Six 89, though Fischer didn’t mean it that way — nor does he have any concrete plans for another such venture.
“It’s not like we’re going to take our pots and pans and move on down the street,” he said.
Nor has the property owner — one of several LLCs with downtown holdings believed to belong to wealthy widow Bren Simon — announced any plans for the space.
Fischer’s other businesses, meanwhile, see some of the same challenges with staffing and overhead, but without the added pressure of a new lease looming. Fischer isn’t terribly worried. The Pullman has withstood almost constant construction on Cooper, Seventh and Grand, and Phat Thai has become a downtown institution, hosting events from figure drawing to women’s arm wrestling.
“It’s always been a tough business,” he said of the industry. “The food is the easy part.”
Meanwhile, Town has seen an uptick in business and reservations, and the flavor of the morning café thing hasn’t soured.
“Our staff’s been awesome. They’ve stepped up and committed to the end,” Fischer said. “I’m pretty certain anyone who works here can get a job anywhere they want.”
Jennie Spillane, who worked at the Pullman before eliminating her own commute by coming to Town, echoed the sentiments.
“It’s been a great place to work, but I think everyone is accepting it as an opportunity to move on and do something new,” she said.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard — both for staff and regular customers.
“I love this place even when I’m not working,” Spillane said. “There aren’t a lot of restaurants where everything is local and fresh and so much love goes into making it.”
Added fellow barista David Eldred, “You have all these intangible qualities in a place like this, and at some point they have to give way to practical reality.”