When Simone Larese was a kid working at her parents’ hot dog stand in Vail Village, she never dreamed she’d still be sprinkling pork-and-veal links with curry and mustard and ladling steaming bowls of chicken noodle soup as a fortysomething adult. Among the first generation of kids born and raised in Vail, she left the valley as soon as she could and went as far away as she could imagine, bouncing from Sweden to New York, from Las Vegas to Park City, before returning in her thirties to take over the Swiss Hot Dog Company. She gave the family business a new name—Blü Cow Café, an homage to the first Vail Village restaurant her parents opened more than a half century ago—and a new home atop Bridge Street, where throngs of young skiers and snowboarders gather to sample, and old timers come to savor, an authentic taste of Vail, the way it used to be.
"My mom and dad came here in 1966—my mom came first—and they got the first Blü Cow going in 1967. It was actually my mom’s idea, named after Mount Blue Cow [a ski resort in Australia that’s now part of Perisher and owned by Vail Resorts; they used an umlaut in “blue” because Dad was Austrian]. She thought the town needed an Austrian-style restaurant that had a show, so every night they had two floor shows with music and yodeling and wood chopping. Old-timers still remember what the Blü Cow was like, there was wood flying into people’s dinners and everything. It was crazy!
My parents went to Austria in 1972 and when they came back they opened the Swiss Hot Dog Company in Vail Village. The Blü Cow ended up closing after that, but the little Swiss dog stand started becoming famous. My mom was the brains behind the whole thing, but my dad was the personality, and they both worked very hard.
I was born here in 1976, and all us immigrants’ kids grew up together in Matterhorn Circle in West Vail. We were all in the food and restaurant business, I think because our parents were all starving during World War II, so they all had this obsession with food. Dinner was a really big deal; my dad would always cook, and everyone would come over and they’d drink a bunch of wine and argue about the war.
When I was young, I had aspirations to be a ski racer, and I was on the US Ski Team for a while. Then I left Vail. When I came back in 2011, the Swiss dog stand had moved to a commercial space in Avon in a really bad location, and my dad was 80 and still working, so I stepped in. I was selling Swiss dogs at the farmers market when I heard that the chocolate shop at the top of Bridge Street closed, so we moved there and reopened as the Blü Cow Café in 2014.
It was definitely a huge risk, but with support of the community it happened. And now it’s crazy, we’re so busy every day! When we first opened, I was like, “What am I doing?!” It’s really daunting to open even a little joint like this—I was working 18-hour days to get this place going when we first opened.
We have this totally crazy following that I call the cült. People tell me they drive up from Denver and as far away as Texas just to come here, and so many people have stories about my dad—people just loved him. He was really smart; he didn’t have much of a traditional education, but he could speak five languages, and he had done all these fascinating things. He passed away in the fall of 2016. My mom still comes in sometimes and works circles around everyone else—and she has a job on top of that!
My parents deserve so much credit for how hard they worked. I’m standing on both their shoulders. Definitely."