melissa i strong

rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily

 Bird & Jim In between getting back to being me--climbing again and coming back from my knee injury, I have been working a ton from our camper in East El Paso, Texas in front of Hueco Tanks State Historic Park on our vacation. What is taking all of my time up? Here it is the big news----drumroll please---I am opening my own restaurant! Working in the restaurant industry in Estes Park for 21 years I am more than ready to start my own adventure and work for myself. At the Dunraven I have learned so much—first from and old school boss who sold to a new school boss. This transition allowed me to experience both sides of the ownership/managerial fence. I watched the restaurant that employed me for 18 years grow without changing too much. We have a mold and we stick to it because it works. Like many tried and true mainstay restaurants in Estes Park we are a tradition that delivers consistency being a proven profitable establishment since the 70’s – so why change mid stream. Rebranding after 30+ years is not an option. When you have a formula like this it is difficult to shake things up yet that was what I was ready for and could only do it by spreading my wings and trying something new! Andy, my new school boss, and I were initially trying to find a place together but after one deal fell through and a busy summer passed Andy decided he needed to focus on his priority the Dunraven. I completely understood Andy yet I was still in the market for a place to land and my banker solved this quest by introducing me to the new owner of the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn and the Sundeck Restaurant on Hyw 36. Sean Keating coming from the Hyatt group bought the properties that are tied together in July of 2016. After a month in the game the Keating’s decided they would rather have a hotel than both restaurant and hotel. Our first meeting was in September. Sean decided selling the Sundeck was the path he wanted and our concept was what he was looking for to have as a neighbor. To sell the properties had to be divided which was tired and failed in the past. Now however after the first meeting with the town of Estes Park we were encouraged that the subdivision and rezoning was possible and I would have the parking and the commercial zoning required. As Sean pushed ahead with the rezoning I had my work cut out for me. I knew I could do this alone but I also knew to make a great restaurant and stay sane I would benefit by having partners. Making a business plan, finding funding and feeling out partners was next. I am so fortunate to have solid funding and some amazing talented people jump on board with me. !00% in are Jimmy Kuch and Chef Ethan Brown! Together we are bringing you Bird & Jim, named for Isabella Bird and Mountain Jim some true grit Estes Park historic characters. We are offering a modern mountain dining experience from an ingredient driven kitchen. Our goal is to bring thoughtful cuisine driven by seasonal ingredients sourced from the Front Range of Colorado and beyond in a comfortable atmosphere featuring stunning views of Rocky Mountain National Park. At Bird & Jim we will celebrate Isabella Bird and Mountain Jim’s pioneer, nonconforming, mountain loving spirit – the same spirit that brought us all to Estes Park! We hope to pioneer a food movement in Estes Park creating a sustainable dining experience uniting the community through food! We plan on offering cooking classes, wine and whiskey pairing dinners, nutritional education classes, community dinners and festive events. We are working with Steve Lane from Basis Architecture and Chuck Santagati of Glacier Creek Construction to completely overhaul the old Sundeck. We are creating a rustic yet modern comfortable environment. The remodel is extensive since the building has no heat and is not winterized. We will see how far our construction budget carries us but we are dreaming big. Construction starts February 1st and we are hoping to open in June! The continuing story will be share at as our dreams unfolds along with hiccups and challenges. The Players—birds of a feather flocking together: Melissa Strong Melissa was raised with a family that did more than cook—cooking to the Gargano's was a way of life that brought her family together. Fresh food coming right from the family garden to their table was a tradition that has trickled down for generations. Once forced to garden as a kid in Massachusetts she now happily takes on the challenges of high altitude gardening in Estes Park. Melissa moved to Estes Park in 1996 from Massachusetts via New Orleans after completing her BA at Loyola University. Melissa has 20 years of restaurant experience in Estes Park. She currently helps run the Dunraven Inn where she has been bartending & managing for the past 18 years. She has experience in restaurants from waiting tables, bartending, managing, prep cook, cooking, running the kitchen line, expediting and ordering, marketing and customer service. Melissa has established favorable lasting relationships with many Estes Park locals and repeat visitors through her years at the Dunraven. She has traveled to vineyards in South Africa, France, Northern Italy, Southern Switzerland and Australia expanding her knowledge of wine and food. She is an avid, sponsored, rock climber assisting climbing access in several areas in the U.S. including being the first volunteer climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park, see more about her climbing and life at Jimmy Kuch I am originally from Annapolis area in Maryland. My passion for entertaining around the table started at home. My grandmother Phyllis instilled a sense of love in the kitchen and taught me the basis to the culinary arts. Currently, I've worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. Starting as a 16 year old bar back in an upscale cigar whiskey bar. My passion for whisk(e)y, craft cocktails, and the culinary arts started in this smoky back bar where Maryland seafood cuisine, smoked meats and a wood burning oven and grill was the focus. The name of this restaurant and bar was Woodfire & the Backroom Bar. I worked every position at this restaurant. After ten years of working in this restaurant I found my way to opening a brew pub called Franklin's outside of Washington D.C.. I worked in Franklin's brew pub while studying at the University of Maryland, specializing in Social Work and Secondary Education. I developed recipes, operate brewing equipment, and bartend alongside the owner and head brewer. In 2011 I was recruited to Estes Park, Colorado by the owners of the world-renowned Stanley Hotel to head and develop a new whiskey program for the Cascades Whiskey Bar in the Stanley Hotel. An antique bar built in 1907 was the focus of the new bar. Around this antique bar I managed a whiskey collection of over 1,200 whiskies from around the world. With the help of a knowledgeable bartending staff I developed a craft cocktail program highlighting the classics. In 2012 I built the "Stanley Whiskey University" program to educate guests on all the different styles of whiskey. I based the "Whiskey University" around a theme and would teach the class similar to a college seminar. Successfully managing the Stanley Whiskey Bar gave me the opportunity to work with many advocates and professionals in the whiskey & liquor industry and develop far-reaching relationships within the growing cocktail industry. I have traveled to distilleries, cocktail conventions, breweries and wineries to learn and appreciate the trade that brings these products behind the bar. I met Melissa Strong and Ethan Brown in Estes Park while working at the Stanley Hotel. I was attracted to a shared philosophy to work hard and have passion for the life especially in the beautiful town of Estes Park, a place we call home. Chef Ethan Brown Prior to running the Jill’s restaurant at the four diamond hotel St. Julien in Boulder Colorado Ethan Brown was the Chef De Cuisine at the Portofino Hotel & Marina, one of L.A.’s finest upscale, waterfront hotels. A native of Austin, Texas and a Marine Corp veteran, Brown attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and also holds a degree in Organizational Management. Chef Brown joined the Portofino team after serving at many of the country’s best culinary operations, including internships at the renowned Michelin rated restaurants Gary Danko in San Francisco, and French Laundry in Napa Valley. Brown’s career path led him to some of the hotel industry’s finest resorts such as L’Auberge Del Mar, and the 5 Diamond Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail Colorado. Chef Brown has also had the honor of serving well known celebrities and dignitaries such as Adam Sandler, Oprah Winfrey, and the Prince of Saudi Arabia. His interests include ocean kayaking, surfing, and the ever increasingly popular organic and sustainable cooking. Why Bird & Jim—Isabella Bird and Mountain Jim’s Story: From September 25-October 20, 1873 Isabella Bird, a Scottish traveler, experienced Estes Park staying with the Griff Evan and family helping heard cattle and exploring “this enchanted region.” “The Mountain fever seized me,” exclaims Bird as she first enters the Estes Valley. Isabella Bird transgressed boundaries of gender and conventions of her time in her quest to reach Estes Park and summit Longs Peak. She used travel as an exalted freedom from the constraints of Victorian society. Bird prides herself on her being a “cattleman” roused out of bed in the early morning hours by her host being asked to stay on longer and help: “I was awakened by Evan’s cheery voice at my door. “I say, Miss B., we’ve got to drive wild cattle to-day; I wish you’ lend a hand, there’s not a lot of us; I’ll give you a good horse; one day wont make much of a difference…. Evan’s flatters me saying, “I am as much use as another man” wrote Isabella. Isabella’s personal journey of discovery and exploration captures the pioneer spirit that continues to pull people to the same mountains today. Mountain Jim, a local mountain guide with a reputation as a ruffian became her allegorical hero as he helped her up Longs Peak. A fondness for Jim is conveyed throughout her letters. She describes Jim on several occasions “his face was remarkable. He is a man about forty-five and must have been strikingly handsome. He has large grey-blue eyes, deeply set, with well-marked eyebrows, a handsome aquiline nose and a very handsome mouth… One eye was entirely gone and the loss made one side of the face repulsive, while the other might have been modeled in marble. “Desperado” was written in large letters all over him….We entered into conversation and as he spoke I forgot both his reputation and appearance.” Mountain Jim lived alone in a cabin trapping and hunting. He was one of the few first western inhabitants of Estes Park moving here in 1868. He lost his eye 1868 in a battle with a bear while hunting “near Grand Lake.” Jim navigated his way over two grueling days to the town of Grand Junction for care. Jim was known as a friendly, generous, yet quarrelsome when intoxicated--a frontier legend that could spin a yarn! The spirit of unconformity and adventure embodied in Bird and the pioneer essence of Jim capture some of Estes Park history and the spirit of those living in and traveling to the Estes valley. The founders of Strong & Co and Bird & Jim were swayed by the same mountain fever Estes cast upon them.

Some pictures of the vision//general idea

Some pictures of the old Sundeck