Fawn Brook Inn taken off market, reopens
The Groichers, ages 77 and 78 respectively and married for more than 45 years, had planned to relax after 33 years of running Fawn Brook Inn, the gourmet restaurant housed in a log cabin at 357 Colorado Highway 7 Business Route in the Boulder County mountain town of Allenspark. At the end of May, they announced that the inn was for sale.
On Monday, Feb. 25, however, Mieke Groicher called agent Rob Lewis at KL Realty in Allenspark and took the property off the market.
It wasn't an issue of no buyer interest, Hermann Groicher said. It's a matter of passing on a legacy.
“We have a young man who started out here washing dishes” more than a decade ago, Hermann said. Will Erickson “is 30 now, and we are training him to take over the restaurant.”
Connecticut-born Erickson came to Allenspark from the Chicago suburbs at age 6 when his father, Roy, who worked in the machine-tool industry, decided to move his children out of the city. His mother, Mindy, waited tables for the Groichers, who put Will to work in the kitchen at age 8 or 9 so she could keep an eye on him.
“There wasn’t a lot going on in Allenspark,” Erickson said, “so I started learning a little bit from Hermann about the cooking.”
When his parents divorced, Erickson moved to Indiana with his father, working in Elkhart's mobile home building industry. But at age 23, he moved back to Allenspark.
“It was my hometown,” Erickson said. “I had friends here, and I love the outdoors. I love to hike, snowboard, race dirt bikes ...”
He reconnected with the Groichers and began work as a sous chef at Fawn Brook Inn. The thought of turning over the restaurant to him “was never really serious in the past,” Erickson said, “but it was an idea that got tossed around.” The talk became more serious last year when the Groichers decided they were ready to retire and the restaurant was put up for sale, he said, and “we're doing all we can to strike a deal.”
Erickson is under Hermann’s tutelage in the kitchen and Mieke’s in the dining room, Hermann said, and “we decided it just wouldn’t be fair to sell the place out from under him.” Hermann estimated that Erickson's training will take “one to three years, until he knows how to run the business” and preserve the special place Fawn Brook has earned in the hearts of area residents.
Legacy has been important to several European-born restaurateurs who have moved to Colorado because the mountain scenery reminded them of home, opened restaurants in Boulder County, sold them and then bought them back. Such was the case with Old Prague Inn — now Praha — at Colorado Highway 66 and 75th Street in Hygiene. The Smetana family, who arrived from the former Czechoslovakia, opened the restaurant in 1974, sold it in 1992 but then bought it back in 2004. Other owners simply have shut down at retirement time rather than risk having their restaurants' reputations tarnished by new owners.
In the case of Fawn Brook, however, Erickson and the Groichers are hopeful that the transition keeps Fawn Brook’s traditions and quality intact. “It helps that I'm learning from a five-star chef,” Erickson said.
After a few months off to give the dining room a face-lift, Fawn Brook Inn reopened on Feb. 8 for dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings plus Valentine's Day. It will resume its full Tuesday-through-Sunday schedule around Mother's Day, Hermann said.
The two-story, 4,329-square-foot building had been listed at $499,750. Built in 1927 on the site of a bathhouse, it first opened as a general store and was sold eight years later and converted into a hunting lodge with 11 sleeping rooms and a kitchen that served up buffalo steak and stew. Subsequent owners ran it as various restaurants.
The Groichers — Hermann from Austria and Mieke from The Netherlands — met in Switzerland in 1966 and emigrated to the United States. Hermann, who had received culinary training in Europe, worked for years as head chef at the Greenbriar Inn north of Boulder before the couple bought the Allenspark building in 1978 and opened Fawn Brook the next year.
“Little did we know what was ahead of us,” Mieke wrote on the inn’s website. “Those who came as strangers became friends or sometimes even extended families, and their lives left a lasting impact on our hearts. Grateful we are for all those years with so many wonderful people who made the Fawn Brook Inn what it is today, grateful for our staff and all those who helped us, their presence reflecting on who we are.”
The inn’s menu features such hearty, comfortable entrees as roast duckling, rack of lamb, beef Wellington, Chateaubriand and game dishes. Dinner entree prices range from $31.50 to $55.50.
How would all that change with Erickson at the helm?
“Special occasions will always be our bread and butter,” Erickson said, “and we want to preserve the traditions. But we need more bodies in here. I'd like to see more people enjoy it.
“I’d like to have more lunch hours and some lighter entrees,” he said. “I’d like to cater to locals in Allenspark as well — and a five-course sit-down dinner doesn't always do that.”
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