From one family, to another
Gunnison Country Times
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Chris Dickey, Times Editor
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s one way to look at the new ownership situation at Mario’s Pizza, one of Gunnison’s landmark restaurants.
Gone will be the Rais and Higgins families, who collectively have owned and operated Mario’s since 1971. But in their places steps another family — new owners and operators Danny and Kerry Lefebvre (pronounced LeFave) of Fort Collins. They even have two young daughters, just like Tom and Kathy Rais did while they were in their early days of running the landmark eatery.
Danny is a Mario’s alum, cooking for the restaurant from ’95-97, while he was a Western State College student. And while he may eventually begin adding to or slightly altering menu items, putting his own signature on things, he’s adamant that those who have grown to love the food and atmosphere at Mario’s will still feel right at home.
“We’re not just buying a restaurant. We’re buying tradition and history,” he said. “Because of that, we’re going to keep everything the way it always has been. They’ve done it right.”
Originally from Minneapolis, Lefebvre cut his teeth in the restaurant business while in Gunnison in the mid-90s — cooking at Café Silvestre, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Palisades, Pizza Dispatch and, eventually, Mario’s.
Upon graduation in ’97, he and Kerry moved to Fort Collins. He continued on the restaurant path, moving to Portland, Ore., where he attended and graduated from the Western Culinary Institute. Then it was back to Fort Collins where he was the chef, assistant manager and manager of several restaurants.
They always knew they wanted to eventually own their own restaurant, and figured there was no better time than the present.
“We’re a restaurant family,” he said, explaining that Kerry will run the front of the house (come springtime, when she makes the move to Gunnison after the girls complete the school year) while he works away in the kitchen. “It’s a crazy (lifestyle) but it’s ours.”
Lefebvre considers the whole situation a blessing. They’re moving back to the community they “fell in love with,” and thanks to the help from the existing Mario’s gang are able to do so as owners of an icon.
“I plan on retiring the same way Tom’s retiring,” Danny said. “I hope 35 years from now some kid comes along who graduated from Western and says, ‘I want to buy Mario’s.’ I’m going to do for him what Tom and Kathy have done for us.”
(Chris Dickey can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)