BAYFIELD – On Mill Street, two “open soon” signs have had a face-off for weeks. The signs mark new restaurants coming to downtown Bayfield. Further down the road, “for sale” or “for lease” signs still rest on window sills in empty buildings.
While the signs of Mill Street measure economic growth, the town’s downtown initiatives resulted in at least one new business: Mill Street Bistro, a new restaurant opening Wednesday.
The new restaurants will double the current number of downtown eateries. In addition to three existing restaurants, Eepa’s Pizzeria opened this summer, and Taco Boy, a fast-casual restaurant chain, will open across the street from Mill Street Bistro. The idea for the bistro started after competition turned to friendship at one of the town’s economic growth initiatives.
“We’d be at the block parties competing against each other,” said Danica Frost, co-owner of the bistro. The town started the block parties to build business connections and community, as recommended by a 2015 Bayfield community assessment. “Then we just formed a friendship there.”
Frost owned Grub Hub at the Billy Goat Saloon, and Kelsy Westwater, co-owner of the bistro, owned the food truck, Bounty for the Belly. In 2018, both women wanted to shift into a new style of restaurant and decided to become partners.
Now, they’re bringing a “down-to-earth,” fine-dining experience to Bayfield.
“It’s something that Bayfield doesn’t have,” Westwater said. The restaurant is open by reservation only this week and will be at full service and open to the public starting Sept. 4.
They envision customers stopping by after work for wine or craft beer, or coming in for anniversaries and dates. The food will be farm-to-table with healthy portions and local ingredients, Westwater said. Entrées, like home-style meatloaf, lobster mac and cheese and lamb chops, will change each week.
The restaurant will be open from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Entrées will be from $17 to $30, appetizers $8 to $15 and desserts $5 to $8. The rest of the week, the partners will offer custom catering services. The owners have received criticism for the short hours, Frost said.
“A) We want to live lives outside of this place, and B) really pursuing the catering – this gives us the time to do that,” Frost said.
Mill Street Bistro grew out of the town’s downtown revitalization plan, and it helped pave the road for future restaurants opening in Bayfield.
Most new restaurants opening lately in Bayfield have gone into buildings with existing restaurant infrastructure. But Mill Street Bistro is a former residence and mercantile. The owners had to get more permits, a process that was a learning process for both town staff and the owners.
“They’re still trying to get their economic development platform ironed out and user-friendly,” Westwater said. “I think we’re kind of helping each other with that.”
Their goal is to keep Bayfield residents in town for the activities that they would normally seek out in Durango or other areas.
“We want to keep some revenue in Bayfield,” Frost said. “You have a nice place to eat, you don’t have to go to Durango.”
While some community members weren’t sure an upscale restaurant could make it in Bayfield, those interviewed for this story said they were excited to have a new place to eat and more businesses on Mill Street.
“We definitely need restaurants open in the evening, especially on weekends, because we only have a handful of places to go,” said Tammi Schreiber, office manager at Lifetime Eyecare on Mill Street. “Who wants to drive to Durango all the time, especially when you’re tired after work?”