Brace yourselves, Telluride. After more than 20 years of feeding us exceptionally well, Mike Guskea and Sophia Kyriakakis are closing Aemono, their popular Lawson Hill location.
Your last chance to pick up signature Aemono fare like the flank steak hoagie, falamus pita or hot turkey-Havarti-pesto sandwich is Friday, April 2.
“We’re simplifying,” Guskea explained. “I think it’s been one of the lessons from the pandemic — to make more time for ourselves. It’s been a long time coming; we’ve been in the business for quite some time now.”
The pair plans to spend summer and early autumn on the Aught06 Ranch, located in the Sangre de Cristo range and one of the oldest and largest ranches in Colorado.
“They are clients of mine from Telluride who own this beautiful ranch, the Aught06 Ranch, and I accepted a chef position there,” Guskea said. “This is the kind of work I have wanted to do for a long time, it’s my dream job.”
On the ranch, Guskea will prepare meals for the family, whom he has worked with for five years, and their friends.
He will also have the opportunity to grow much of his own ingredients in a greenhouse that he is in the process of setting up. There will be scope to use bison raised on the ranch, and explore the new surroundings.
“It’s not going to be as stressful,” Guskea remarked. “We’re incredibly blessed to do what we’re doing now. Growing this business has been a labor of love that has now afforded us the opportunity to move in another direction.”
Winters will see Guskea and Kyriakakis back in town where they will continue the catering and private cheffing arm of Aemono, but on a smaller scale.
“The ranch will be my primary focus during the summer through hunting season,” he said. “It ends in November and then we’ll take some time off to compensate for the 24 years we have been here, where we didn’t take any time off. The winters will be a mix of providing private chef services to a handful of regular clients and escaping to the desert.”
The move is the latest in a long career on the local dining scene that started in 1998 when Guskea and Kyriakakis opened the Limeleaf, a restaurant downstairs at Swede-Finn Hall (now the Elks Lodge).
Next, the pair started Aemono as a catering business in 2002.
The following year, they transitioned out of the Limeleaf to focus more on growing Aemono.
“I was catering and personal cheffing as Aemono, using the old Brown Dog space,” Guskea recalled. “It was called Pac Street Pizza then and Dan [Lynch] and Dave [Pihlgren] let me use the kitchen.”
Aemono expanded to include not only catering, but also a cozy takeout spot on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Davis Street, as well as the Lawson Hill eatery, which Guskea and Kyriakakis opened in 2004, where it thrived.
“We bedded down in Lawson for 17 years,” Guskea said. “We watched the [Telluride Brewing Co.] brewery grow next to us and Lawson grow as a community. We grew alongside them, which has been a really cool experience.”
Guskea added that he feels lucky to have arrived in town when he did.
“Telluride is such an amazing place,” he said. “I feel lucky that I got here in the ‘90s and got to experience what it was then, but I am also incredibly thankful because without the growth in our tourism and second homeowner community, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. And, I can’t understate the importance of locals to the success of our business.
“Unfortunately, what I am not really happy about is the lack of housing for our employees. It’s a challenge I hope our local governments place a high priority on to help our small businesses thrive.”
Any other observations from 20-plus years owning and running a restaurant here?
The readily accessible regional and sustainably grown produce, proteins and artisanal foodstuffs, said Guskea, who has long held a commitment to sourcing as much as possible from southwest Colorado and Western Slope growers and producers.
“I have always looked at the bigger picture, even back when it was almost impossible to connect the farmer with the chef,” he said. “I felt that it was highly important to support local growers and local artisans. Twenty years ago, it was almost impossible to do this, but now it has become possible. To name just a couple, you have Vicki’s Fresh Food Movement to the north and then to the south is the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative.”
He continued, “The change has been epic. It went from praying for it to happen 20 years ago to now where it is almost year-round. I am very proud that I was a part of the movement and lucky enough to have met almost everyone who grew our food.”
What about the soon-to-be-former Aemono space?
Enter Steve Hertzfeld and his business partners Taylor Landry and Grace Mayer, who have been in the Telluride restaurant and catering business for many years. The trio have purchased the space and equipment from Guskea and Kyriakakis and are planning to open a new venture.
“They are three young, motivated individuals who have been in the profession, so they are ready to hit the ground running,” Guskea said.
In the meantime, Guskea said he and Kyriakakis are looking forward to spending more time on their bikes and hanging out with their dogs.
“We have two dogs that we take everywhere with us, and we love to bike and camp,” he said. “Now we’ll have more time for all of it.”
Guskea paused for a moment before adding, “We are so grateful for everyone’s support throughout the years, this experience will be with us forever. It’s been the ride of a lifetime. Many thanks to you all.”