Kelly Liken's New Non-restaurant Job: Serving the Valley's Hungry
A world away from the television studio spotlights and burners of the Vail Village restaurant where she made a household name for herself, chef Kelly Liken has found a new calling among hundreds of boxes stacked to the ceiling of a warehouse in an industrial complex on the outskirts of Gypsum. A colorful sign hanging above the door identifies this place as The Community Market, a food bank organized by the Eagle Valley Community Fund (EVCF) that serves about a thousand locals who can’t afford to buy groceries after paying for rent and other bills.
After signing on as the nonprofit’s food bank manager over the summer, Liken (who earned celebrity status on cutthroat culinary reality TV shows Top Chef and Iron Chef a decade ago after opening her namesake eatery, Restaurant Kelly Liken, which shuttered in 2015) brings a unique vision to the project—namely, rebranding the former Eagle River Valley Food Bank as The Community Market to chip away at the stigma of visiting a food bank, and stocking shelves with fresh produce instead of the usual ramen noodles and jars of Jiffy.
“Of course we take canned goods and nonperishable staples,” she says. “But we also work with local grocery stores and food markets so that 60 percent of our products are fresh produce … right now, we’re diverting 5,500 pounds of food per week from a landfill—we say we ‘rescue’ the groceries.”
That also means working with producers—like Austin Family Farms in Paonia, which stops at the Market on its way to the valley’s high-end restaurants and gastropubs to drop off “seconds,” a.k.a. bruised-but-otherwise-edible produce that might not get plucked from the shelf by consumers, or that might be turned away by chefs. And expanding the EVCF’s network of Mobile Markets, vans stocked with fresh produce that call on communities from Red Cliff to Dotsero.
“When we started this, we asked ourselves, ‘How do we address quality of life for people who live here full time and make the resort work?’” explains EVCF Director of Community Impact Susie Davis. “Kelly’s a food expert who also knows business, so we’ve been able to move to this really efficient, choice grocery model.”
To that point, Liken says it’s all part of her evolution. “I felt like I could really dig into this,” she explains. “It has a lot of the logistics I understand from the restaurant business, and it’s where my values and my priorities are—it’s sort of the perfect reinvention.”
The Community Market
Open Mon–Sat, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
760 Lindbergh Dr, Unit 7, Gypsum