Member Kelly Landers and her husband Jason sell their Steamboat restaurant after 18 years.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Rex Brice takes over ownership of the Creekside Cafe & Grill in September, he says he has just one goal.
"People keep asking what we are going to do, and I tell them my plan is ‘don’t screw it up,’" Brice said. "They have done an incredible job of building a tremendous culture there. They offer great food, and they do such a wonderful job.”
Brice was referring to Jason and Kelly Landers. The couple has owned and operated the downtown Steamboat Springs restaurant nestled on the banks of Soda Creek for almost 18 years, delivering farm-fresh food with a side of love to both locals and visitors who walked through their doors at 131 11th St.
"I think what sets Creekside Cafe apart is that we, and our employees, passionately and genuinely care about what they are doing every day," Kelly said. "We have very few people who are just here going through the motions."
The Landers' approach has made Creekside one of the most popular breakfast and lunchtime destinations in Steamboat Springs with people willing to wait in line for a table and an opportunity to dine on the cafe's famous eggs Benedict and omelets. They also come to sample the Creekside Classics portion of the menu or something from the Routt County Heritage section that includes food from area agricultural providers.
Great food and elevated service have been the Landers’ recipe for success as they’ve watched the cafe grow from its modest beginnings in 2002 to what it is today.
But a couple of years ago, as their children started growing up, the Landers began talking about selling the business, which has required them to rise early and work long hours. They wanted to spend more time with their middle school-aged children.
"We put our lives into this, and we had kids, and we thought it would be a lot more fun to spend time with them," Jason said. "We want to be around as they grow up and make their way through Steamboat Springs school."
Around that time, the Landers started talking to Brice, and then last spring, the couple put Creekside Cafe on the market. Kelly said that, within 12 hours, they had two offers including one from Brice, who owns Rex's Family of Restaurants that includes Mazzola's Italian Diner, Rex's American Grill & Bar, Big House Burgers, Lil’ House Country Biscuits, The Laundry Kitchen & Cocktails, Salt & Lime, the Burrito Bar and now Creekside Cafe.
"If somebody doesn't read this article or hear about it through the grapevine, and they go to eat at Creekside, they should have no idea that Jason and Kelly aren't there. That is our goal," Brice said. "Part of that is for the customers, and part of that is because Jason and Kelly have created something that doesn't need to be changed.
“I have tremendous respect for them and for what they have done for this community, for what they have done with their business and with what they have done for their employees,” Brice continued. “They make decisions for the right reasons."
Brice said he expects the transition of the Creekside Cafe into the Rex's Family of Restaurants to go smoothly because of the culture Kelly and Jason have created.
Kelly is confident that Brice will take care of what they have built, and if possible, make it even better.
"Pretty much every restaurant that we have taken over we have basically started from scratch and created a concept that really worked for us," Brice said. "Creekside was one, maybe the only restaurant in town, that I was really intrigued by, because Jason and Kelly have done such an incredible job of building that company and creating the culture that they did. The culture that Jason and Kelly created at Creekside is very similar to the culture that we believe in so strongly here at Rex's Family of Restaurants."
Jason said Creekside’s culture is built around love — a love for hard work and success, a love for employees and customers and a love for the ranchers and farmers who grow the food that is used to create some of the most popular dishes at Creekside.
Jason and Kelly take pride in what Creekside has become in Steamboat Springs and are pleased that Brice will be coming in to take care of the employees who work there.
They also are looking forward to spending more time with daughter Caroline, who is entering the eighth grade, and their son Timmy, who will be a seventh-grader. They also hope to have time now to enjoy many of the things that make Steamboat Springs such a great place to live, including Creekside.
"I'm going to come down here and be a guest," Jason said. "I'm going to get drunk on mimosas and bloody Marys. I just want to be down here and be a guest."
Although they had been discussing the idea of selling the restaurant for two years, Kelly said it took the couple until April to convince themselves that it was the right decision. The sale is expected to close Sept. 1.
Labor of love
Creekside Cafe & Grill has been a work in progress for Kelly and Jason Landers since they opened the doors of their restaurant in 2002, and the colorful history of the spot along Soda Creek in downtown Steamboat Springs started long before people started lining up for breakfast and lunch at the popular eatery.
The building at 131 11th St., where Creekside Cafe & Grill now operates, has been home to a number of different businesses. It was the site of the Steamboat Carriage Company, a laundry and a Montgomery Ward Catalogue Store.
When Nancy Kramer got the idea of opening the In Season Bakery there, she said the location was divided into a mishmash of meeting spaces and didn’t have a kitchen.
“I opened the In Season in December of 1982,” Kramer said. “We did all the lease-holder improvements originally.”
Kramer said she added a kitchen and a small patio when she owned it. In seven years, she built a strong local following for her European-style bakery and cafe. She said the locals embraced the concept, but she was all alone and didn’t have the capital needed to grown.
After she sold the business, it went through three different owners.
Kelly, who had always dreamed of owning a restaurant, got involved when she came onboard to run the front half of the house as a part-owner around 2000.
“Someone asked me recently, ‘Did you ever think about quitting when you first opened and you had days when there were just 10 customers?'” Kelly said. “I’m like, ‘no.’ It’s never an option to quit and not strive to do things better and better all the time.”
But when her partners came to her early on and wanted to sell the business, Kelly and Jason, who had been married for just four years, had a serious discussion about their future.
Jason had another job, and in the early days, his checks were supporting the family. He also was pursuing a dream of owning his own fish store — the Fish Shoppe that was located in Dream Island.
At the end of the conversation, Jason told Kelly the family would sell the fish store, which would became Tropical Rockies, and put all their efforts into the restaurant. Jason, who had been helping out in the kitchen, became a bigger part of the equation.
"They both wanted to pursue other interests,” Kelly said of her partners. "Jason was kind enough to come in as my business partner and take over the kitchen with very little official culinary training except for cooking a lot at home. That's when it really became the Creekside as we knew it.
“Jason brought in the homemade ingredients, nothing out of a bag,” Kelly added. “He used the whole cow and the whole pig and local products. For me, that's when the Creekside actually began."
Kramer said she is proud of the Landers and what Creekside has become.
"They have just done a phenomenal job, and I think Rex will carry on the tradition for sure," Kramer said. "I don't go out and eat a whole lot, but that is certainly one of the places that I go."
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.