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Friday, February 3

“Come Join us by the Fire”: An update on the Sage’s Hearth Remodel and Vision

Business“Come Join us by the Fire”: An update on the Sage’s Hearth Remodel and Vision

Most of us drive by it every day. This multi-pitched building has seen decades of holiday bazaars, Halloween balls, fundraisers, and community events. Its modest kitchen has prepared thousands of meals for hungry hikers, spiritual retreatants, Colorado College students, and the Crestone community at large. The Desert Sage Restaurant has always been a place to gather and be nourished. From the roadside, onlookers may have recently noticed that the Sage is undergoing an incredible transformation. Since its sale over a year ago, the Crestone community is eager to know: What does the future hold for this iconic building? When will its doors open?

New owners and food enthusiasts Mary Gaetjens and Paul Winans have made it their mission to create a nourishing, inspiring, and lively environment for Crestone to enjoy. Inspired to create delicious food and an uplifting venue to share it in, the couple has big plans for the restaurant they are calling “Sage’s Hearth.” Initially built for the Aspen Institute in the early 1990s the Sage served as more than just a restaurant. It hosted a bakery, hair salon, health care business, townhouse rental office, and a residence. “It was a sort of mecca,” describes Mary, “that offered wonderful services to the community.” Paul and Mary plan to revive all former uses except for the hair salon, though are open to a stylist joining their team if they need a business location. Their envisioned marketplace will be complete with a bakery, restaurant, chocolate studio, creamery, bar, garden, fitness/wellness center, and two apartments. They are also restoring the old clock tower to include a private dining area with scenic views.

Regarding the restaurant, the duo is in the process of planning their menu. “Wholesome”, “nourishing”, “healthy”, and “local” are top adjectives used to describe their future dishes. Inspired by Mary’s Haitian, Creole and New England roots, the menu will be eclectic. For example, Fish Friday will feature local trout with sos pois et riz (rice and beans), etouffeé legim (vegetable etouffeé), and a wicked-good chowda (Bostonian for Chowder!). Having dined in incredible eateries across the globe, the couple plans to offer versions of their favorites from India, South America, and Europe. It’s likely an international executive chef will join the community when they open. They encourage local chefs to reach out if they are interested in joining the Sage’s Hearth as well. Whatever dishes land on the menu it’s clear they will add a new flavor to the Crestone food scene. Mary exclaims, “Trust us. It’s going to be delicious!”

Sustainable practice and design are also central to the vision for the Sage’s Hearth. Food waste from the restaurant will be processed in a methane digestor, providing cooking fuel, domestic hot water, and power the hydronic infloor radiant heating. They will further eliminate waste by keeping single-use products out of the bar, such as bottles and cans. Any product they serve will either be made in-house or come from a bulk, local supplier. Serving spirits from The San Luis Valley Distillery headed by Nick Chambers was one vendor mentioned with excitement.

The couple has been busy manifesting their vision with their own hands and are working tirelessly to completely remodel the interior of the building, pass code inspections, and meet their sustainability goals. Redoing the plumbing, roofing, installing a massive 10,000-pound masonry heater, landscaping, building a mezzanine, and extending the north end of the building are projects currently underway. They are also proud to have redesigned the kitchen with help from a James Beard Award-winning chef and chocolatier. Guests will be able to watch as their meals are prepared in the new exhibition-style kitchen.

Paul and Mary have worked hard to make the entire Baca Townhouse area an oasis for pollinators, wildlife, and residents to enjoy. With guidance from local landscapers, they have already planted an assortment of 75 native berry bushes, including chokecherry and golden berry. As former president, secretary, and treasurer of the Baca Townhouse Association (BTA), the couple eliminated the use of pesticides and insecticides on the property, managed noxious weeds, and encouraged turf grass to return to an alpine meadow. They also hired Amanda Wright of Terra Agua Landscaping and Irrigation, LLC to install drip irrigation. Regrowth of native plant species, improved water efficiency, and a healthier ecosystem have resulted.

Like any extensive remodel, several unexpected events have delayed the Sage’s Hearth’s opening. In June, the BTA declared a need for more specifics on the building plan and laid forth a set of requirements before building could resume. As a result, all work related to the exterior has been at a standstill. The owners are optimistic they’ll regain BTA approval sometime after the New Year and encourage the Crestone and Baca community to express their interest in the Sage’s Hearth re-opening to those they know in the Association.

As they await approval for rebuild, Paul and Mary are focusing on the interior. They have essentially gutted the interior to get the building up to code and modernize outdated infrastructure. The owners are also faced with the immense, unexpected cost of replacing the roof and other surprises. The Sage is “more of a fixer-upper than we thought,” says Mary. Such matters have put a major dent in their budget and could delay their opening. They are excited to complete the interior, get BTA approval, and get ready to open.

When is the Sage’s Hearth planned to open? The owners say they would like to open as soon as this Spring but to do so need community support and the BTA to approve their plans. Currently, Mary and Paul are asking for help in the form of donations, investors, and advocates for the project to vocalize their support. Donors will get more back than they give with vouchers to the Sage’s Hearth upon opening. For example, if you donate $100, you will be given $110 future credit. Despite some setbacks, Mary and Paul are thrilled to call Crestone their home and to be fulfilling their lifelong dream of creating a venue for wholesome nourishment. They feel the space will offer Crestone a much-needed sanctuary for relaxation, wellness, education, and recreation. With sincere excitement, the owners are looking forward to soon share their hearth with the community. In their words, “Come join us by the fire!”

For future updates on their progress, follow the Sage’s Hearth blog: sageshearth.com. To get involved in the project, contact Mary at mary@sageshearth.com or Paul at paul@sageshearth.com.

Zaylah Pearson-Good
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