Alex Seidel opened Mercantile Dining & Provision at the newly refurbished Union Station five years ago, with Matt Vawter at his side as partner and chef de cuisine. With Seidel's business expanding, the chef/restaurateur says he's stepping back to put more time into other projects, so he's made Vawter executive chef of the restaurant that earned Seidel a 2018 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest.
"We've been working together for twelve years now, and honestly, he just has my full confidence," Seidel says of Vawter. "He's an amazing leader."
Seidel adds that he has watched Vawter grow since the two worked together at Fruition, which Seidel opened in 2007. At Mercantile, Vawter's role has been expanding since the restaurant opened, so at this point the new title is more of a formality. "We communicate about food really well and there's a lot of collaboration, but he's the one designing the menus," Seidel adds. "It's more than just cooking, though; it's managing people and teaching them."
Vawter's promotion isn't the only change at Seidel's restaurants. Fruition chef de cuisine Franco Ruiz left earlier this spring to take the executive chef position at the newly opened Woodie Fisher downtown. Seidel says he's in the process of hiring a new chef de cuisine, but that he's taking his time to make sure the fit is right. Ruiz had worked for Seidel for six years, and many of the other staff members have also been on board for several years, so there's good chemistry that the restaurant owner doesn't want to disrupt.
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Seidel has been spending more time managing his growing stable of ventures, which now includes a second Mercantile that's slated to open in the A Concourse at Denver International Airport in 2020. The new outpost will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner just like its Union Station sibling. The chef is also a partner in Chook, the Aussie-style roast chicken eatery that won our award for Best Fast-Casual Concept this year. And there's also Fruition Farms and Creamery in Larkspur and Füdmill, the commercial bakery Seidel runs with fellow restaurateur Keegan Gerhard.
All told, Seidel counts some 200 employees among the various businesses, a fact that has changed the nature of his leadership position over the years. Rather than working nights and weekends behind the cutting board and stove, the chef bounces between all of the businesses, starting his day at 8 a.m. and finishing somewhere between 6 and 10 p.m., reserving weekends to spend time with his family. He likens his evolving role to a professional athlete retiring from the field to become a coach, and he's delegating more responsibility the way a head coach would, making longtime beverage pro Patrick Houghton a partner and promoting Fruition GM Andrew Schlapinski to director of operations.
"You can lose something a lot faster than it takes to build it," says Seidel — the driving reason behind his recent decisions to lay a stable foundation for future growth.