[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]
 August 1, 1999

Sunflower fills natural fine dining’ niche

BOULDER — We’ve got the Ethiopian restaurant, the Belgian pastries and the Chinese takeout with brown rice and no MSG. We’ve got the noodle bowls, high-end and low, no end of burritos and the grocery stores with organic salad bars. We’ve got the globe covered — is there any niche in the Boulder restaurant market that hasn’t been already filled?

Jon Pell and his partners say there is. What Boulder has been missing, up until now, is what Pell calls “natural fine dining,” and he has opened Sunflower, at 17th and Pearl streets, to fill that niche.

It’s a gap he has been filling since 1981 when he opened the Five Seasons Restaurant in Boston. He sold it 10 years later and bought an organic orchard in Paonia, Colo., because “I wanted to raise my kids here,” he says.

Like many, if not most people in this crazy business, Pell, who is 41, had been working in restaurants since he was 14. And he soon returned to the field, running Explore, a vegetarian bookstore/coffee house in Aspen, for a year and half. He started Wildflower Catering in Basalt and finally Sunflower in Carbondale. Unfortunately, “I wasn’t able to support my kids,” he says. They’re now 20, 18 and 17. So he began working as a consultant to create and open a natural foods cafe in the private Aspen Club. He hired Matt Snyder as executive chef and Alison McDonald as sous chef.

Snyder, 28, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who grew up south of Seattle. After graduating CIA he returned there and worked at Ponti, which was repeatedly voted Seattle’s best seafood restaurant.

“But Seattle was exploding,” he says. “I wanted somewhere less populated, so I opened a map, stuck my finger on it and it landed on Aspen.” He had driven through Colorado twice, but never had been to Aspen.

“Jon’s restaurant was the first I applied to when I got to town,” he recalls, “but it had two owners who were chefs. So I stayed in contact with him” while working at several other restaurants. “From day one,” when the two finally got together at the Aspen Club, “we talked about his plans to move to Boulder.”

Enter McDonald, a Virginia native who lived all over the East Coast from Louisiana to Connecticut. She attended Western Virginia Wesleyan for a year before deciding that “college had nothing to offer me.” She got a bakery job in New Jersey “under a pastry chef who taught me so much. I developed my love and passion for food.” She attended CIA, majoring in pastry arts, and moved to Aspen, where her first job, impressively, was pastry chef at Little Nell.

As things happen, her husband had a job at the Aspen Club, and when she went to pick him up there one day, the human resources director, who was a friend of hers, told her they were looking for another chef. The rest, as they say, is history. McDonald, who is 25, began working with Pell and Snyder, who kept talking about Boulder. And though she initially nixed the idea, eventually she realized that it made sense.

Why? Though Boulder boasts many natural foods stores, the only natural foods restaurants are in the “funky, hippy style,” says Pell. “Our food is on a par with any of the finest restaurants in town. We use much more healthy ingredients and an upscale prep and presentation.”

Adds Snyder, “There should have been 10 restaurants like Sunflower in Boulder. The styles of food offered here is comparable to Seattle or L.A. or New York. You’ll find here what’s being used there. But we’re in a different realm. What we concentrate on is health and organics, really making food that tastes great and compliments the healthy lifestyle.”

It’s been over a year since the trio began looking for properties here, and they rebuilt the old Pasta Jay’s, nee Rio Grande from the floor up, including demolishing the old “assembly line” kitchen to make way for a more appropriate kitchen for a fine dining restaurant.

Maple booths and tabletops, granite bar, vibrant murals of sunflowers and the flagstone floor accent the restaurant’s emphasis on what’s natural. The intimate lighting helps keep it quiet. The restaurant fills the first floor of the corner building; above are now offices. It has a 30-seat semi-private dining room and also can accommodate parties of up to 100 people.

Sunflower’s menu is based on Pell’s 18 years in this market. “We’re going with what we know,” says Snyder. “What’s been successful. Jon has 20 years of accumulated recipes in natural food. My experience in fusion cooking dealt with a lot of ethnic foods. The main reason we’ve gotten together is that our styles work so well together.”

Sunflower features all-organic produce, beans and grains, free-range poultry, organic, raw-milk dairy products, an organic juice bar, an organic coffee bar and an extensive list of organic beers and wines. The water, Snyder says, is dual-filtered.

On its changing menu Sunflower may offer appetizers that run the gamut from chicken satay to Cajun prawns to tofu nori rolls. Lunch includes an organic salad bar with Snyder’s original salad dressings as well as prepared salads to cater to downtown’s quick-lunch crowd. The dinner menu offers many fish and seafood selections, as well as free-range chicken and vegetarian selections, from tempeh scallopini to curry, udon noodles in a gingered vegetable broth, penne pasta in a marinara sauce and a veggie steamer. All the lighter entrees can be augmented with chicken, shrimp or grilled tempeh or tofu. The children’s menu offers pizza with organic raw-milk mozzarella as well as chicken, linguine and burgers (be it Boca or turkey). Dinners vary in price in the $15 to $20 range. McDonald’s desserts have no refined sugars, and at least half are vegan. And even the vegan recipes have Snyder raving.

Says Pell, “The ultimate goal of eating is to promote health and happiness. Every single dish we make has that in mind.”

Sunflower is open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner every night and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Call (303) 440-0220.

BOULDER — We’ve got the Ethiopian restaurant, the Belgian pastries and the Chinese takeout with brown rice and no MSG. We’ve got the noodle bowls, high-end and low, no end of burritos and the grocery stores with organic salad bars. We’ve got the globe covered — is there any niche in the Boulder restaurant market that hasn’t been already filled?

Jon Pell and his partners say there is. What Boulder has been missing, up until now, is what Pell calls “natural fine dining,” and he has opened Sunflower, at 17th and Pearl streets, to fill that…

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]

Related Content

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-interstitial zone="30"]