Owners Chelsey Rajavuori and Matt Guertin opened the Fireweed Cafe & Mercantile on Saturday in Rico. Current hours will run Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with a break from 2:30 to 4 p.m.), and weekends from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Photo by Bria Light/Telluride Daily Planet)

For the past several years, the building on the west side of Rico’s main street has stood empty, the rustic wood of the Old West-style facade aging, the sweeping deck in the adjacent side yard beckoning but solitary. The place, even empty, exerted a certain “je ne sais quoi,” a silent self-assurance that it was going to go someplace, someday. 

That day arrived yesterday, when the doors of the building across from the small town’s post office opened to the public, heralding the arrival of the Fireweed Cafe & Mercantile. The new eatery is part coffee shop, part homestyle cafe, part grocery, and all charm. The irresistible aroma of freshly baked sourdough cinnamon rolls greeted customers Saturday, along with the cheerful sight of colorful citrus, fruits and vegetables piled in wooden bins in the cafe’s grocery. Jars of bulk goods like grains, spices and baking supplies lined up tidily on a table near the entrance, offering everything from almonds to curry powder. Nearby shelves boasted locally made pottery, jewelry, soaps and tinctures, and framed photographs of mountain landscapes for sale by local photographers adorned the walls.  

For owners Chelsey Rajavuori and Matt Guertin, the cafe is something of a pipe dream come true, the extension of an idea that transformed rapidly from whimsical fantasy to concrete reality. The couple, who moved to Rico from Ophir last winter, was enjoying a picnic by the Dolores River one warm evening in late summer, musing about the future.

“We were having dinner by the river, and Matt brought up the idea, ‘What if we just buy that cafe on Main Street?’” Rajavuori remembered. “It was this totally crazy-seeming idea.”

But the next day, they called the realtor, and the day after that, they made an offer. The owner accepted.

“Suddenly, we had a cafe!” Guertin recalled, adding with a chuckle, “Well, we had a building.”

The two got to work. They scrubbed, they hauled, they tinkered. They painted, scoured the region for restaurant supplies for sale and built out most of the interior from the boards up. It was a combination of their ethic to reclaim and reuse existing materials and minimize their footprint as well as a matter of pragmatism. After being turned down by multiple banks for a loan, they had to get thrifty. Guertin got permission to salvage items from houses being demolished in Telluride to make way for new homes, and carted away pine planks, appliances, hardware, furniture and yes, even the kitchen sink.

“All of it was amazing stuff that otherwise would have literally been thrown away,” Guertin said. “Probably 75 percent of everything we used to build this place out is from reclaimed materials.”

Five and a half months and no small amount of blood, sweat and tears later, the couple had transformed the shell of a cafe into a colorful, vibrant space complete with a “cozy corner,” a reading nook with artfully mismatched chairs, potted plants and a take-one-leave-one free library. A glance out the windows onto the sprawling deck may or may not offer views, depending on the day, of the couple’s Australian shepherd mix, Brooks, contentedly tunneling forts into the snow.

Beyond the aesthetic charm of the space and a good wifi connection, the cafe will offer a rotating menu of fresh dishes, including farm fresh salads, soups, breakfast burritos and superfood smoothies, along with a full menu of coffee drinks. Guertin bakes fresh sourdough loaves, and Rajavuori works the magic with baked goods like carrot ginger muffins, using the pulp from the fresh pressed juices. Rajavuori, who has worked in the restaurant industry for years, is designing a menu and sourcing the food as much from local farmers and regional providers as possible.

“This cafe is an opportunity to bring our values together and provide a service for the community,” she said, noting that along with minimizing waste and showcasing seasonal offerings, they hope to offer the cafe as a community hub for future events like cooking classes, workshops and live music in the post-COVID-19 era. Along with composting, using vegetable scraps to make stock for soups, and freezing juice cubes for sparkling water, the duo plan to eventually plant a garden for additional local, seasonal herbs and vegetables. Offering bulk goods in the grocery is yet another way to minimize waste by reducing the consumption of packaging, especially single use plastics.

“We’ve all gotten so used to the convenience at our fingertips,” observed Rajavuori. “We hope to reduce all that plastic that ends up in the landfill. It’s a baby step towards doing something good for the earth.”

Rico, while home to just 300 or so residents, is a thoroughfare for road-tripping tourists passing from the Southwest to Telluride and the Colorado Rockies, and boasts a plethora of outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing and camping. Guertin and Rajavuori want the cafe to provide a place for both community connection and a spot to refuel with a hearty, healthy meal or an indulgent housemade treat.

“Rico has a ton of activities — skiing, biking, you can run a trail marathon right out your door,” Guertin said. “People come here to recreate. People want something quick to start them off and get them out of the door, and then when they come back, they have all these options to finish the day and feel revitalized.”

Plus, he added, Rajavuori’s cooking is not to be underestimated.

“She’s a phenomenal chef, baker, you name it,” he said. “Her cooking has always been sought after. We are so excited to open the doors and start making memories here.”