You can almost feel it. There are some restaurants that have an aura, an energy, that transcends their four walls. One such spot is Craftsman, Chris Schmidt’s craft sandwich (and more) emporium at Edwards Corner across from the Riverwalk. When the news broke in November that Schmidt was moving the five-year-old concept into the dormant Gore Range Brewery just across the street, into the hopless vacuum left after Crazy Mountain decamped for the Front Range and Bonfire Brewing abruptly shuttered its Eagle taproom, the valley practically cheered: “More good food! More good beer!”
Craftsman is beloved, but its big concept and the even grander ambitions of its executive chef were constrained by a too-tiny space. Schmidt grows animated when talking about what the new location (with 5,600 square feet instead of 2,300 and 130 seats versus 62) will allow his team to do, yet he realizes the value of not doing too much. “I don’t want to get away from what made us who we are,” he says.
The biggest shift will come in the beer program—something Schmidt, who considered opening a brewery before he launched Craftsman, has long dreamed about. He has partnered with Frisco-based Outer Range Brewing Co., which will brew on-site. But, Schmidt is quick to point out, he’ll still bring in kegs of guest beers curated from his favorite Front Range haunts (including the superlative Slow Pour Pils from Bierstadt Lagerhaus), served from rotating taps. After all, it’s a Craftsman signature.
Despite being “behind schedule and over budget,” Schmidt laughs, he’s actively working through the purgatory of the notoriously glacial mountain-town permitting process, with hopes for a September opening. He’ll add some salads and small plates, but he’s also exploring family-style plates such as fish tacos or sloppy joes for the table. “We’re talking of doing an oven-roasted fish in the wood-fired oven and bringing it to the table with a stack of tortillas and fixings,” he explains. “Or taking sloppy joes to the next level with a mix of pork and Wagyu served with Parker House rolls, slaw, and pickles.”
As for the space Craftsman is vacating at Edwards Corner, that will evolve into In Bloom, an artisan pizzeria with “really fun pizzas, natural wines, oysters, and amaros.” While Schmidt realizes a roster of amaros (an Italian herbal liqueur served as a digestif) won’t exactly elicit a stampede, he’s cool with that. “It’s novel, and novelty is part of the education,” he says. “We’re going to fill a keg with Fernet because we love it.”
Schmidt says In Bloom won’t blossom until at least three months after Craftsman is up and running. With labor shortages the way they are (not to mention industry burnout at an all-time high), he doesn’t want to shuffle staff between the two locations. It’ll open when it opens, he says, and he’s perfectly OK with that, too.