By Kim Fuller Published in the Vail Daily
Chris Schmidt started his culinary pursuits as a teenager, and even at age 15, he knew he wanted to eventually open his own restaurant. Renowned chef Thomas Keller has always been an inspiration for Schmidt, and Keller’s words from a 2017 New York Times article are inscribed in big and bold words on the wall of Schmidt’s new restaurant: “Hard work and dedication to craft will right all wrongs.”
Craftsman, a chef-driven and counter service establishment with a heavy focus on sandwiches and beer, has opened in Edwards under the partnership of Schmidt, his wife Janelle Schmidt and Sweet Basil managing partner Matt Morgan. The launch of this dream venture shows that hard work and dedication certainly pays off, and what is being created here really does feel right.
FINE FOOD, CRAFT ON TAP
“I have done fine dining my whole life,” said Schmidt, who has worked across the country and in notable establishments like Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York and, most recently, as head chef at Sweet Basil in Vail. “And I started realizing that maybe that’s not what I wanted to do — I wanted to be away from the pretentiousness and exclusivity of it. I wanted to do something that was approachable.”
Craftsman was originally planned to be a sandwich shop, but the concept has since evolved into something with all that and more. Schmidt’s menu combines fine dining techniques and high-quality ingredients for an array of gourmet sandwiches as well as a whole list of small plates and appetizers that work as individual orders or shared dishes.
The eatery is all the convenience you get at a sub shop, topped with the atmosphere you get at a bar, and filled with the goodness of great food and flavor in every order. Craftsman is open every day from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. with no change of menu or closure between lunch and dinner.
Sandwiches include meat and vegetarian options, such as the No. 1: Fried chicken banh mi with chicken liver pate, jalapeno, pickles and cilantro between a brioche bun. And the No. 3: Crispy avocado, roasted beets, arugula, sprouts and green goddess dressing on brioche. “Not Sandwiches” are equally temping, from the herb fries with vadouvan butter, Parmesan and smoked mayo, to the burrata with Palisade peaches, heirloom tomato, olive oil, croutons and basil.
Just as flavor-forward, soups and salads are available at Craftsman, along with Wee Craftsman kids’ options. For dessert, the sweets are simple and spot on — Palisade peach and raspberry shortbread; brown butter chocolate chip cookies.
Order at the counter, and the staff will bring your order to you. You can grab a drink while you’re standing or order it from your seat. Craftsman has 16 tap handles, 12 of which are for craft beer selections, and the other four for wine and cocktails.
What you won’t see at the moment are any hyper-local brews, but instead, beer you can’t usually get in the mountains.
“We have no beers from the valley currently,” Schmidt said. “Everybody in the area has the same beer list, and I really want to do something new and creative, and I want to put the best beers on that we can possibly find.”
Close to half of what is on tap now come from Front Range breweries that are especially unique or do not distribute.
“We made a trip down to Denver with the truck and met with the breweries, and picked up kegs face-to-face,” Schmidt said. “We will probably do that once every two weeks. That’s our way of not only supporting them but also building relationships, and bringing something up here that nobody else has.”
Craftsman also has an impressive selection of bourbon and whiskey — serving a collection of more than two dozen.
DOWN TO THE DETAILS
Another detail that will stand out, but maybe not as obviously to the customers of Craftsman, is that the entire staff are all on equal hourly pay, and they all split tips equally.
“I’m trying to create a team without the divide of front of the house, back of the house. We’re all in it together,” Schmidt said. “And I want to make sure people realize where the tips are going. What I want people to realize is all the energy that goes into creating what we create, that’s where the tips go.”
The food and drink prices are on the reasonable side of the scale in this area, and Schmidt hopes this will also leave some room for customers to appreciate their meal and service with generous gratuity.
Customers can see all the action happening in front of them since Craftsman has a beautiful open kitchen, so showing generous gratitude shouldn’t be a stretch for most. Schmidt is eager to see how his method will work for the guests and his staff.
After all, creating quality isn’t easy, but it’s almost always worthwhile. That’s why Schmidt was drawn to give Craftsman its name.
“It’s a tribute to building things with your hands,” he said. “It’s being creative — being a craftsman.”
The restaurant’s impressive buildout, along with the attractive and cutting edge details of the renovated space — from the vintage light fixtures and butcher block community tables to the dark gray concrete ordering station with “Craftsman Established 2017” etched into its side — it’s all the result of a lot of vision and just as much talent.
Schmidt worked with Denver-based Roth Sheppard and Rocky Mountain Construction to complete the project. The industrial chic result combines the elements of raw wood, concrete and metal to make a truly inviting and innovative space. Sit down and stay awhile — Craftsman has only just begun to create.