Covid refugees find success in Carbondale restaurant
August 8, 2023
Pandemic lockdown in Chicago proved too intense for Leslie Lamont and Charles Ford, so the duo set their compass to Aspen in the fall of 2020. Ford landed a job as the general manager of Clark’s Market and Lamont became director of Restaurants at Hotel Jerome. After a year of grinding in downtown Aspen, the couple longed for something of their creation.
When a space became available in Carbondale, they took the opportunity to open their first restaurant. Tiny Pine Bistro opened its doors in February 2022 three blocks from Main Street in the space that previously housed The Beat. The upscale eatery seats 26 inside, and doubles capacity in nice weather with their deck and backyard tiny tiki bar.
The building, which appears residential, was constructed in the late 1800s and has much of yesteryear still present. The vegetable wallpaper, custom bar top, gas fireplace and wood floors capture the authenticity.
“The concept spoke for itself. If we were younger, we wouldn’t have the experience and creative energy to seize the moment with what you have,” said Ford.
Growing up, Ford was always cooking in the kitchen as his mother’s family was in the restaurant business. With cooking experience in Italian, Asian and French cuisine, he pulled from a diverse background to inspire Tiny Pine’s menu.
“There were eight to ten dishes that I thought would satisfy the upscale, slow food niche. I wanted to give the community something that it wanted, and then I use the specials to get really creative and go off the deep end,” Ford said.
Much of the produce and meat from the menu comes from Ford’s newly-established relationships from the Carbondale Farmer’s Market.
“We also knew our market,” said Lamont. Coming from Aspen, the duo had witness to what it took to survive in a tourist town, and they knew it wasn’t for them. They wanted to dial it in for the locals. “We’ve always been destined to become a mom-and-pop shop through and through. We’re just two Midwesterners out in Colorado trying to live it up.”
They wanted the menu to feel familiar to their customers, with dishes like chicken parmesan. But the labor-intensive nature of homemade pasta and their focus on featuring seasonal vegetables would help locals justify treating themselves with a night out. Camy’s Market Tagliatelle, for example, features both homemade pasta and centers seasonal vegetables.
The couple’s Midwest ethics, cook-with-your-heart, honest persona has saved them from some near disasters. Ford’s mom and dad cooked with him the first weekend in July.
“My parents came out to visit and for one reason or another, we didn’t have any kitchen staff,” said Ford. So his parents threw on aprons and cooked alongside him on a night when nearly 80 people chose Tiny Pine Bistro for dinner. Mrs. Ford cooked in her parent’s restaurant growing up, so she never missed a beat.
“She stepped right in and was a total hammer the whole night. My dad, though not a pasta chef in any way, just quit thinking and did what his arms were telling him what to do — a true ‘Ratatouille’ moment. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” added Ford.
Other issues have daunted the duo, like when a walk-in cooler went out and a composting snafu left a less-than-pleasant odor, but for the most part they’ve thrived.
“We are so fortunate for the incredible people we’ve met in the community since we’ve been in the valley. Among them are Felix and Sarah Tornare from Milagro Ranch who went out of their way to bring us their refrigerator truck when our walk-in cooler broke. That meant we didn’t lose any product and we didn’t have to close,” added Ford.
Tiny secret to success
Tiny Pine Bistro is not a beast of a restaurant. Sometimes, a successful night might only be 15 customers. Generally, the patrons are 60% local and 40% tourists.
The outdoor tiny tiki bar, newly added this year after last year’s backyard bar trial, features a sandwich menu, full bar and stage.
“Connecting with the local creatives and community was a very big priority from the onset. We have started hosting local comedy nights that are ticketed and will keep them going. We have thrived on this community and want to welcome them at every opportunity,” said Lamont.
And the “pine” portion of their name is personal to the owners.
“The name Tiny Pine is pretty good. Took us about a month to get it right. The first time we told each other ‘I love you’ was in a park in Madison, Wisconsin. The ground was covered in tiny little pinecones, so I picked one up and saved it to remember the moment,” said Lamont.
“We also got engaged in a little field of pinecones. We’ve really embraced the pinecone theme at this point,” added Ford.
Tiny Pine Bistro and the tiny tiki bar in the backyard are open Wednesday through Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Happy Hour at the tiki bar, inside bar and front porch are 5-6 p.m. each day the restaurant is open.
There is live entertainment every Thursday and first Friday through the end of September. Tiny Pine Bistro also hosts local comedians with upcoming shows on Thursday, August 24, and Thursday, September 28.