The National Telluride
Kate and Chris Thompson are bringing a deep warmth and a new hospitality style to The (new) National.
“When people walk in the restaurant, they’re going to know it’s a new operation from our branding to the color scheme and artwork to the way the servers are dressed, it will be a new vibe,” Chris said.
Operating from the old National Club building which is attached to both the Buck (Last Dollar Saloon) and Rustico, the Thompson’s are feeding off the deep history and old-school 24-hour restaurant vibe that used to exist in Telluride, where trains in the 1800s would bring in specialty ingredients including seafood, quail and squab.
Chris moved here as a teen in 1996 and completed his last two years of high school and then began cooking. Serving as Executive Sous Chef at The Excelsior and Executive Chef at Rustico, he also helped open La Piazza at just 19 years old. He met his love Kate in the culinary mecca of San Francisco and moved to Denver to open The Nickel at Hotel Tatro, designed by Catherine Frank (@studiofrank). Kate, originally from Seattle, achieved her degree in culinary management from the University of San Francisco and served as a hospitality professional and GM of several restaurants including Ballyhoo Hospitality in Chicago.
Together, they chose Telluride to raise their 1-year-old boy and girl twins and offer Telluride locals and visitors alike the experience of upscale hospitality with a sense of community.
“The biggest things we have learned and seen in fine dining is that it doesn’t need to be stuffy or austere, it can be warm and inviting and personable, and people should remember your name and offer you your favorite spot at the bar,” Kate said.
“Our motto is ‘how can we say, ‘yes’ to as many things as possible’?” Kate added. “We will be opening earlier and staying open later and being more available for the shoulder seasons. We’d like to be able to offer those late reservations or later apre ski hours when the grocery store is closed and there are limited options. We want to be an opulent offering for tourists and encourage locals as well,” she said.
Both west coast kids that love the idea of Midwest hospitality, the Thompsons have steeped history in the Chicago area. After living in Denver for a year and half, they found a project which took them to Chicago – Coda Di Volpe – a southern Italian restaurant which Chris helped coin the cuisine, concept and menu. He was a chef and partner for five years.
“During COVID I exited my initial partnership that brought me to Chicago and at that point we started testing the waters here in Telluride. We had been coming back for Blues and Brews and Christmas and of course to snowboard,” Chris said. “We started taking an interest in whether it would be viable to open a restaurant.”
“Chicago was very good to us,” he added. “It was bittersweet to move and come here.” “But,” as Kate said, “community is what it comes down to.”
“We really love it here. It is where we wanted to raise our kids and have that sense of community you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” she added.
Chris said, “Telluride is always going to be a place that continues to reinvent itself – little renaissances everywhere. Telluride can’t be a luxury boutique place without the people working here to serve that luxury – essentially all the businesses and restaurants. Our new mayor Teddy Errico comes at it from a real estate perspective, but he also understands that Telluride can’t be a place to buy if there isn’t a sense of community.”
Personal friends of Telluride Real Estate Corp. Brokers Jessica and Garrett Simon, Kate and Chris are also friends with the former National owners, now opening in a new space in the former High Pie location called The Grand.
“Telluride has changed a lot but there is still a lot of heart here,” Chris said. “Coming back here I’ve stayed in touch with friends and family who have put down roots. I want to see the town where you pay thousands of dollars for skiing and then have a beer at the Buck with your ski instructor, which keeps the soul of the town alive.”
Kate said, “I’m a huge snowboarder and love the outdoors so the shift from big city life to incorporating more outdoor time has been appealing. We would always joke, ‘where are the hills in Chicago?’ and having the experience of living in Seattle and having an hour drive to the mountain – Colorado has always been ‘the place’ and we’ve always had a great time visiting here,” she added.
“We came and dined out all over town and saw a big niche we could fill. We knew what we did in Chicago and other ventures, and we are excited to show off what we can do here by elevating the dining scene around town,” Kate said.
Chris added, “We want to see the luxury dining scene in Telluride continue to evolve and one of our goals is to continue to put Telluride on the map as far as luxury restaurants and the food scene in general. We aim for elevated service standards, having more accessible hours and lots of locals we’ve talked to think it’s a great idea.”
“We want to offer a place where couples and friends can go out on the weekdays or weekends and have a nice cocktail or order off the menu at later hours and not have to compete with a louder bar scene,” Kate said. “A big part of hospitality is you’re providing an amenity. It’s not a slight to what others have to offer but we see a different avenue and hope people take a page out of our playbook and hopefully we can make Telluride even more of a desirable location,” she added. “It’s not easy or cheap to get here, and hospitality is about being hospitable.”
As far as the menu? Mediterranean with Italian inspiration straight from Chris’s early days.
“Kate and I met at Spruce restaurant in San Francisco, with an American menu with lots of Mediterranean vibes. I picked up a lot of my cooking style from the owner who spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean and it helped my professionalism working with him every day,” Chris said. “We worked in the very, very high end as well as the medium end and the product was truly exceptional with deep warmth and hospitality behind the service style, working for families that are neighborhood and community oriented,” he added.
The cuisine will change weights throughout the year, heavier in winter and lighter and leaner in the summer. The menu in general will offer a lighter fare, not in size but in a healthier way – more veggies, warm spices, and a depth of flavor.
“We’re going to have pasta made from scratch,” Chris said. “I’ve been working in restaurants 27 years and I know there’s a lot of places to get Bison, Elk etc. and that market is well-served. We’re here to make a difference and make the guest happy,” he added.
Kate said, “We’re here to do our best to make reservations on time and present good food and showcase a team that is passionate and friendly.”
“Everyone wants the same good food and service and wants to be treated the same without it being stuffy,” Kate said. “The idea of inclusion is to have everyone have the same experience, maybe you’re buying a different bottle of wine, but we want to share the rare wines as well as the mid-range bottles,” she said.
The couple’s main focus is sharing knowledge.
“We train our staff well and try to continue to keep them interested in what we’re doing so they stay engaged with the menu and offerings,” Kate said. “I was a big part of training and development in my career and keeping employees excited about coming to work and sharing their knowledge with guests is something we’re really excited about,” she added. “Staff education is paramount and keeps them as champions of the menu while keeping them happy and excited.”
We all know when you’re passionate about something, it resonates.
Chris said, “We want to cater to those visiting as well as those that live here and are the backbone that make it run every day. We will not be closed entirely during off-season, and we plan to open earlier and close later, for those that go out of town and those that are here year round.”
“I think everyone is ready for another option,” Kate added.
From their case studies and market research, the Thompsons invested heavily in how they could best serve the local area. Mediterranean fare including a larger ratio of seafood was top of the list.
“We also have a couple of really great steaks on the menu,” Chris said. “We already have a strong team, from servers to sous chefs. Our pastry chef Jessica is relocating here from Nashville to work for us,” he added.
So far, to support the outdoor lifestyle, The National will just be serving dinner, but have plans to expand their options soon.
“We are in the process of reimagining the rooftop space,” Kate said. “The views are amazing. Weather permitting we’d love to be able to offer that space to grab an app and cocktail while you wait for a table.”
The couple desires to create an approachable feel while still honoring the style and service of fine dining.
“We want people to say holy sh*t while they’re here dining and make their reservation for the next night,” Chris quipped.
Kate and Chris are excited to put their spin on the already beautiful space while integrating their style. They have put in a whole new kitchen line and new kitchen set up.
Kate said, “We are working with a lot of local companies, Crossbow Leather is doing our beverage books, and we have local friends doing the furniture, including boucle fabric for the chairs and barstools. The warmer textures are very welcoming and help bring the outdoors in. We are working with Blue Grouse Bread and local traders including coffee. We are also working with local art galleries to create a more inviting space. We’re here to throw a party every night.”
For more information and the current hours and menu, check out www.nationaltelluride.com