When it was announced that Shasta Kibe of Bastien's Restaurant (3503 East Colfax Avenue) would receive a 2021 Industry Spotlight Award for outstanding legacy employee from the Colorado Restaurant Association at a ceremony on November 3, she was kind of pissed. "I would never have done anything that would have put me in the spotlight at all," Kibe says. "Everyone is making fun of me, but that's restaurants, that's how we handle things."
Despite shying away from the limelight, however, Kibe admits she is proud and honored to be recognized. Rightfully so, after 27 years of working for Bastien's, home of the famous sugar steak, this is the first time the server and manager has been recognized for her hard work. For Kibe, though, the award is not so much what she has done, but how the restaurant and the family that owns and operates Bastien's has embraced her.
We talked with Kibe about the award and the ways the hospitality industry has changed for her and Bastien's since the pandemic.
I started in the mid-1990s, though I have taken some breaks. I worked at the flower shop across the street, and Bastien's needed some help on the weekends and sometimes at night. I started out as a bartender, then server, and I did that for many years before taking a break. While I was gone, they reached out to me. I think they were super desperate for employees, and they asked if I would come back. I said yes, and that was about ten years ago. I started working there full-time in 2015 and it became my only job. Now I am mainly a server and a manager in the sense that I pay bills and go to the store and can sign for things.
What brought you back to Bastien's?
It's a family business owned by three sisters [Colette Bowdish, Mary Bastien and Jeannine Bastien]. It's the relationship I have with the family that keeps bringing me back. The money is good, too, but I worked there when the money wasn't so good. Back then, in the 1990s, [the owners] put in their personal money to keep it afloat. Now, with that cyclical idea that 'what is old is new,' we became this kitschy place and the hipsters started coming in. So we've been busier than we have ever been in the past ten, six years.
Aside from the famous sugar steak, what makes Bastien's special?
We are almost a Denver institution, we have lasted so long. Plus, it's a neat building, it really is. The family has owned the corner it's on since 1937. The owner's grandfather bought what was then known as the Moon Drive-In at the time. They tore that down in 1957 and opened the restaurant in 1958.
Since you started 27 years ago, how has the industry changed?
It's changed a lot. You hear the horror stories about the service industry and customers, but for the most part those are few and far between. Most of the people that come in are very nice and very polite. We have longstanding customers that started coming in even before I started, for thirty to forty years. One just came in last night — his name is Chuck.
Also, now it's more fun going to work, especially since COVID times. The service industry gets a bad rap for not appreciating personal time, and here we try to have a good work-life balance. After we shut down for COVID, we decided we would stay closed on Mondays after we reopened. So now there's a day we can all have off and not worry about the restaurant.
How is working at Bastien's different from jobs at other restaurants?
At the restaurant, we only have nine servers total to run the front-of-house business, and we are all very close. Many of the employees are relatives of the owners. And once you get into Bastien's, you're also basically family, and most people tend to stay. It's a good place to work. Another way I would say the restaurant is atypical is the chef. Chef Ryan Bastien, the owner's son, comes in at 2 or 2:30 p.m. It's not the typical chef shift where you're working seven days a week, sixty hours a week. We are respecting that work-life balance.
Also, we are closed on Christmas because there are grandchildren and the family wants to spend time together. Without the family working, there isn't enough staff to run the restaurant. So we close Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, too, so the family gets time to be all together. We also all take a week in July for vacation.
So you all get along?
We don't have those back-of and front-of-house arguments other places are known for. Sure, we might bicker, but we also say "please" and "thank you" and we appreciate each other. When we do fight, it's very friendly, and there's not a huge animosity to each other.
Tell us more about how Bastien's supports that work-life balance.
It was consistent before, but COVID brought it to the forefront. Back in the day, I could have worked seven days a week, and the owners would, too. But I think it was COVID that made us see we needed that break, not just for ourselves, but to attract applicants. There are many articles about mental health issues in the service industry, and that's why I think people didn't go back to working in restaurants after COVID. It's hard to manage that work life. We are only open for dinner, and it's nice not to have to worry about lunch shifts.
And, for example, I know it's far off, but in May I think we will have to close on a Saturday because my daughter is graduating college in Vermont, and one of the owner's sons is being confirmed Catholic. So, without us there, we will probably have to close. What else could we do? You can't miss a confirmation, and I won't miss my daughter's graduation.
How did you feel about getting the Colorado Restaurant Association's Legacy Employee 2021 Industry Spotlight Award?
Jeannine Bastien, one of the owners, nominated me for it. She wrote, "Shasta has always been there through good times and bad times. Shasta's work ethic shows she not only takes pride in her work, but cares deeply for family values." That was really sweet. However, when I found out, I called the owner and I said, "Thank you and fuck you at the same time." I don't want the attention. It was like, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do?' I really haven't told anybody. I guess the only real attention is through the Westword, and my family and the Bastian family know about it.
I don't know that I know about hospitality in general. I have mainly only worked here, and I am not a pro in the restaurant industry. I am no [longtime restaurant-industry marketing expert] John Imbergamo. Though I did wait on him once, I think he is vegetarian.
He is vegetarian; it's amazing you know that. Sounds pretty professional to me. On that note, will you stay another 27 years?
If my arm can hold out, maybe — I have a wicked case of tennis elbow. But I do see myself retiring from here. I have maybe another ten or fifteen years. Then I can retire, since now I'm almost fifty.
Anything you want to add about Bastien's or the industry in general?
Just to put it out there, we might be looking for a server or two. But not everyone is a good fit. You have to be able to get along with our dynamic. It's definitely better than a corporate situation, there they just have rules. At Bastien's, if you have a reason for doing what you are doing, then they can look at it and decide if it's okay. Overall, you have more freedom at a mom-and-pop place, and I love that.