By Jeffrey V. Smith
Amanda and Ryan Cooper have cooked up a masterpiece in Georgetown. The couple have transformed a vacant wine-tasting room into Coopers on the Creek, an upscale, yet approachable, chef-inspired mountain restaurant and bar. They take great pleasure in serving 100-percent scratch-made entrees and small plates from high-quality, simple and real ingredients. Their well-stocked bar featuring craft beer, distinctive cocktails, house infusions and boutique wines is also a point of pride.
The restaurant—which is located conveniently on the roundabout near the Visitor Center and Interstate 70 exit—overlooks Clear Creek and offers an unpretentious and inviting atmosphere to welcome its guests. The interior features local historic images, folk art and even wall paper made from old Clear Creek County mining claim maps. A patio added to the front and a new deck out back ensure patrons can immerse themselves in Georgetown’s unique mountain atmosphere outside as well as in.
The Coopers each have a long history of working in the restaurant industry, and even got to know each other working together at a Chart House restaurant in Cardiff, CA. Ryan has always been in the kitchen behind the scenes, while Amanda has spent her career managing the front of house, and honing her mixology skills.
Ryan, Coopers Executive Chef, began his culinary career at a fine dining restaurant at the top of Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, where he grew up. “I started as a dishwasher when I was 14, and just worked up through the ranks,” he said. From there he moved to San Diego and “line cooked around for a little bit” before mentoring under Chef Mathew David. Ryan soon became David’s sous chef and started working at Landry’s, which also owns the Chart House and Peohe’s on Coronado Island. “There was a pretty wide variety of culinary techniques involved, so I got to learn a lot from that as well as from Landry’s themselves about the financial aspects of managing a business and restaurants.”
After another seven years in California, the couple moved in 2010 to Denver, Amanda’s home town. “We subsequently left Landry’s, and had some experience at different independent restaurants,” Amanda said. “I worked for the U Baron Group… I was their full-service district manager after opening a few restaurants for them.” Once in Denver, Ryan landed a job as Executive Chef and General Manager for Tony Rosacci’s Fine Catering, which is Tony’s Market’s full service catering division, where he stayed for three years before starting down the road toward opening Coopers on the Creek.
Despite their current enthusiasm for their new venture, the Coopers were not actually looking to start a business of their own. “Before this opportunity presented itself, we weren’t really looking to open our own restaurant,” Ryan said. “We’ve always talked about opening our own business one day, but we were actually pulling away from the restaurant industry because we have two kids and were a little scared we’d end up having to live in the restaurant.”
Sometimes, as the couple soon found out, you can’t fight fate. Amanda’s aunt and uncle, who live in Georgetown, found themselves talking to the new owner of the wine tasting room who explained he wanted to turn it into a restaurant. He just happened to ask if they knew anyone who might be interested in operating it, and they pointed him to the Coopers. “It was amazing. It was like kizmit,” Amanda said.
Once the two met the property owner, they “hit it off” right away. “Our vision of what we wanted to do was right in line with what he wanted this place to be,” Ryan explained. “This is an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, plus we’ve always wanted to live in the mountains.”
When they decided to jump in, they made the move to Georgetown and faced several months of renovations before any cooking could begin. The project, which began last September, just ended with a grand opening in mid-July. “It’s been a long process,” Ryan said.
The interior was completely gutted and rebuilt from the ground up. The couple and property owner worked closely with long-time Georgetown resident Pat Stern—who celebrated her 90th birthday at the restaurant at the end of August—on the interior design. They came up with a distinctive, localized look. A fireplace at the far end of the room is warm and inviting as is the folk art from found items and collages of historic photos from Historic Georgetown on the walls.
All of the tables are made from reclaimed barn wood, and an eye-catching copper-topped bar was the property owner’s request. Some of the walls are covered in wallpaper custom crafted by another local resident, and made from old county mine maps. Found and repurposed items can be found throughout. The bar back is partially crafted from huge pipes formerly used to move water in mines on Guanella Pass while some smaller ones were custom made for the restaurant by a local welder.
Since July, the Coopers have been serving Ryan’s refined menu of skillfully prepared items. “We are going for an approachable upscale type concept like a gastro pub, but a little less on the pub side and more just a comfortable mountain restaurant,” Ryan explained. “Just quality food, quality ingredients, fine dining food at a much more affordable atmosphere. We focus on a lot of small plates where we can serve quality ingredients at smaller portions, but also encourage sharing so people can order a few different things. We also have our full service entrees as well.”
According to the chef, everything is made from scratch, and everything is as simple as possible. “I break down all our own meats and try to do as good quality stuff as we can,” he said. He also has stock “rolling” everyday. There is no beef or chicken base in the house. Even his au jus is made from scratch. “I just try to give people a taste for the type of quality you wouldn’t normally get unless you were at a $100 a plate restaurant, but you don’t have to charge that much if you do it right,” Ryan said.
“We have built a menu we hope has a plethora of good snacks and small plates,” Amanda explained. “We want people to be able to come in and eat five things and try five different items on the menu… and share and get a taste of everything without having to do the big traditional entree, appetizer sort of meal experience that people are accustomed to. We have good options for people to enjoy quality cuisine and find it approachable enough to make it a regular stop.” Small plates are available all day with a lunch and dinner menu available depending on the time of day.
While some of Coopers of the Creek’s creations—like the Shrimp Gnocchi and Bison Short Ribs—are quickly becoming local favorites, the menus will change seasonally to keep freshness and quality at the highest levels. “We have already started talking about our fall menu,” Amanda said. “They will change seasonally, but we won’t touch the things we know people are really excited about. We will leave some of the mainstays alone, but sustainability and having good quality produce is important. We don’t want to serve bad quality. It’s really important to us that we serve the freshest, best things that we can and if it’s not available in quality product, then we won’t serve it.”
Even though the Coopers could have easily joined the up-and-coming restaurant scene in Denver, they were not into the “pretentious attitude” found in many new establishments. “Denver has a great food scene,” Amanda explained. “It’s cool, but… food is food. If you make it good and approachable, it doesn’t need to come with a bunch of nutty pomp and circumstance. Ryan does such a great job of putting things on plates and making them look beautiful, but making it taste good, too. It makes food feel special without it being over blown.” The flavors, presentation and unique, fresh ingredients easily elicit a “special” feeling when eating Ryan’s creations, while the prices, atmosphere and friendly staff keep things down to Earth.
“We want this to be a family restaurant, so we want it to be a place you can bring kids. We want you to come with your kids, and eat good food and have a good drink. It’s not stuffy, and we are not stuffy people,” Amanda said. “We wanted it to be comfortable and approachable, so people can bring families and we are also friendly with dietary restrictions and gluten free.
The same care provided to the Cooper’s cuisine carries over to the bar, which was designed to be “fun and approachable,” according to Amanda. “Ryan has such a great menu, when we started this process I wanted to have drinks that complimented it,” she said. “All ten tap handles rotate, so we’re not necessarily concentrated on Colorado craft, it’s more regional. Good and fun beers. I am really passionate about craft beer, and I didn’t want to commit.” Every time something “kicks,” something new comes on.
When it came to the wine list, the couple concentrated on boutique wines that were main stream varieties from lesser-known wineries from regions that are “a little bit new and exciting.” The cocktails are all craft and they do five house infusions, with the most popular being the stone fruit. “We do a chia infusion where we use a Dram Chai from Silver Plume,” Amanda said. “We also do our own bourbon barrel aged cocktails. We are working on some homemade Fireball, and we have some infused tequilas coming up. It’s cool.”
The cocktails are unique and focus on distinctive flavors. “I am very particular about the bitters we use. We have 11 types of bitters, and different ingredients. Some of our builds are six or seven ingredients, but they are easy to do and are fun to drink,” Amanda explained. “We want people to be able to get away from the vodka soda, but if they want a vodka soda, we have a great vodka soda, too.”
Although they have not been open long, all the feedback has been really positive. “People seem to really like the menu and like what we are doing. Social media has been really positive,” Amanda said.
Consider Coopers on the Creek anytime, especially when seeking great ambience and a dining, or bar, experience to remember.
Coopers on the Creek is located at 1500 Argentine St. in Georgetown. Find the restaurant on Facebook for current information and specials.
Originally published in the September 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly