chef-owner Alex Seidel is still mulling over the name of his new restaurant and European-style market, which will open in Union Station next summer, but he's made at least one concrete decision that will undoubtedly ensure that the wine program rivals any in Denver: Seidel has enlisted Stephanie Caraway, aFood & Wine
magazine Sommelier of the Year and the former wine director at Chef's Table, a restaurant in Iowa that amassed stacks of accolades for its stellar wine list and French cuisine before shuttering in 2012, as his new partner in the unnamed restaurant -- and as the front-of-the-house manager at Fruition, where she'll oversee the floor and wine experience.
The two met in Napa Valley in 2010 -- the same year that Seidel was named a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef -- and Caraway says there was instant synergy. "We started talking about food and wine and we hit if off immediately," recalls Caraway, who moved to Denver a year and half ago to partner with Seidel on the new restaurant. "When we met, I told her that I wanted to do a new concept in Denver, and we started glamorizing about two people in the food and wine business opening a restaurant together," adds Seidel, who also owns Fruition Farms Dairy and Creamery.
Caraway, who's originally from Texas, and has also worked in restaurants in Arizona and New York City (she was a server at Balthazar), is currently the fine wine educator of the west for Terlato Wines, where she oversees the company's high imports portfolio, but at the end of this month, she'll leave that behind and come on board full-time at Fruition to run the front of the house and elevate the wine syllabus. "When I met Stephanie, I could tell that she was really into her craft -- that she's consumed to the point that it almost defines her," says Seidel. "She brings a great mix of energy, credibility and experience, which is something I really couldn't find here," he adds.
And Seidel acknowledges that the wine list at Fruition isn't the restaurant's strongest attribute. "The wine list definitely needs the most work, and Stephanie's background is perfect for making sure that it evolves and has focus, direction and seasonality," says Seidel. "And she has an amazing way with guests and making people happy," he adds.
Caraway is equally complimentary of her new partner. "Alex is so honest, which you can see in the way he runs his business and the way he takes care of his family -- both his immediate family, his restaurant family, his farm family and his purveyors -- and he's just a flat-out great cook," she says.
Interestingly, Seidel admits that he never thought he'd open a restaurant, much less a restaurant like Fruition. "I never had any money -- I was a struggling cook in massive debt," he remembers. But with some financial assistance from friends and family, he was able to scrape together the working capital to buy the restaurant from Sean Kelly, who sold the space to Seidel in 2006, after closing Somethin' Else. The farm, explains Seidel, was "the next process for me, so I could better understand food as a whole," and the Union Station restaurant, he says, "is my dream."
And an extended opportunity, he says, for his farm, employees, guests and Caraway. "The restaurant/market concept will be an outlet for the products on the farm, and because of the size -- it's 5,000 square feet -- we can accommodate so many more people, while giving our staff and Stephanie the chance to reach more of our guests with our brand," says Seidel.
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"I want to duplicate the success and relationships that we've built at Fruition, and Stephanie and I agree that it's all about cooking, wine, giving guests what they want and providing great hospitality -- and wine and hospitality are two of Stephanie's major strengths," says Seidel. "And the fact that we're in a really awesome space in an iconic landmark in the heart of downtown Denver just means that we get to touch more people."
Seidel hints that the food at the new restaurant will be similar to what he does at Fruition, at least from a technical standpoint. "The presentations will be a bit different, the menu will be slightly larger and we'll elevate the wine program, but it will still be approachable and honest, just like Fruition," he says.
The market aspect, he reveals, will "coincide with the preservation of Union Station." Cured meats and cheeses will be available, but he'll also do what he calls "deconstructed meals in a jar" -- foie gras in a jar, duck confit in a jar and sturgeon rillettes in a jar, along with pickled vegetables and jams. And while there won't be a display case of meats and seafood, Seidel notes that if a guest wants the staff to butcher a fish, or a pig, for dinner in their own home, they'll be more than happy to do so. "Everything that we serve in the restaurant will be available in the market," he adds.
"Between pulling corks, chatting with guests about food and wine, the farm, the restaurant and the market, we want to continue to set the bar high and share our experiences with the community," concludes Caraway.