Counter Culture

From left to right, Steve Hertzfeld, Grace Mayer and Taylor Landry hold a sign outside their new noshery, Counter Culture, in Lawson Hill, which opens Wednesday. (Photo by Bria Light/Telluride Daily Planet)

How many former Alpino Vino dishwashers does it take to change a lightbulb? Nobody knows for sure, but it takes three of them to open Lawson’s latest eatery, a laid back restaurant with locally sourced, made-from-scratch fare that fills the space recently vacated by Aemono’s departure. On Wednesday, Taylor Landry, Steve Hertzfeld and Grace Mayer will open the doors to Counter Culture, offering a variety of sandwiches, burgers, wraps, grain bowls and tasty treats at affordable prices.

While the three founders have been working together for years in the various restaurants and bars of Telluride, the seed of opportunity for what would become Counter Culture was planted in a chance act of serendipity several years ago, after Hertzfeld landed at the tiny Cortez airport. When another Telluride local on the flight needed a ride home, Hertzfeld offered. On the drive, he shared stories about his life in Telluride and work in restaurants. Hertzfeld dropped the passenger off in Telluride, and that was that. Or so he thought until a couple of months ago, when he received a text from the man, offering to connect him with his neighbor, who was preparing to retire and was looking for buyers to purchase his restaurant equipment.

Together with his longtime business partners Mayer and Landry, the trio jumped at the chance, and are looking forward to taking their shared love of good food to a new level with the opening of Counter Culture.

“Basically, it’s local food for local people,” said Hertzfeld. “We want to be that place in town where the average person can eat multiple times a week, without skimping on quality.”

To that end, Counter Culture will offer ― you guessed it ― counter service from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with à la carte meal options like sandwiches and burgers generally running from $10 to $15.

“We want people to be able to walk out of here with a sandwich, fries and a drink for under $20,” Landry said.

Another perk of Counter Culture: It’s directly adjacent to the Telluride Brewing Company’s tasting room, which is perfect for that food-and-brew combo after a mountain bike ride or a day’s work. For fans of locally made beer, it’ll be hard to find a better pairing, given the trio’s passion for locally sourced food and seasonal rotation. The menu will feature local meats, partnering with Tomboy Butcher and Western Slope ranchers to offer items like artisanal sausage and housemade ground beef. The owners are also cultivating relationships with local farmers to plant crops specifically to meet their menu needs, like regionally grown potatoes for their French fries.

“Food just tastes better when it hasn’t traveled forever to reach you,” said Hertzfeld. “It’s about sustainability, but you can also just taste the difference. That’s the experience we want to deliver. We just want to provide honest food.”

Along with the focus on affordable, fresh and local fare, the three also place an emphasis on building community. The act of offering tasty, nutritious meals transcends the transaction; it’s about sharing food and quality time with friends, creating connections, facilitating conversations over a meal and cultivating community. Counter Culture also offers a full catering service, for which Landry, Hertzfeld and Mayer aim to continue working with local organizations and nonprofits to support the local community. Additionally, the partners credit their own experiences in town working under valued industry mentors for fostering a desire to offer a fun, supportive work environment to employees.

“We’ve all been lucky enough to have some great mentors along our way,” said Mayer, as Hertzfeld nodded in agreement.

“We learned a lot, how to do things right, how to make things from scratch, to cook with heart, and how to treat people,” he added, crediting chef Nicola Peccedi, under whom the three worked at Alpino Vino, for sharing important lessons. “He’d always teach a dishwasher how to filet a fish, no matter how bad he was at it. We were taught the importance of creating an environment of learning rather than intimidation in the kitchen.”

Given the team’s combined decades of experience in Telluride’s food service industry, along with their lifelong passions for food and community, Mayer, Hertzfeld and Landry expressed a heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity to take the reins of their own dining establishment.

“It’s pretty life changing for all of us, so we’re very excited to get going,” said Mayer, adding that Counter Culture offers an open door for everyone. “We want this to be a place anyone can come. No matter who you are, how bad of a day you’re having, where you're from ― this is a safe place for you. Everyone is welcome here.”