In the Winter, Regulars Sustain Wondervu Cafe
If you go
What: Wondervu Cafe
Where: 33492 Colo. 72, Wondervu
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday; closed Mondays
More info: wondervucafe.net , 303-642-1258
The patio at the Wondervu Cafe is closed for the winter, but waitress Sue Widholm knows which table is the best place to sit down on a warm day — table 36.
“You just get the best view, especially on a clear day,” Widholm said. “You are looking at the Continental Divide.”
Owner Adeline Ortiz-Clairmont has spent nearly 43 years building the cafe into the local landmark that it is today.
The restaurant has been used on “America’s Most Wanted” and another movie production crew shot a winter scene at the restaurant. It was in the summer, however, so the producers used potato flakes as snow, much to the delight of a potbellied pig that lived across the highway, according to Ortiz-Clairmont.
According to the Wondervu Historical and Architectural Survey commissioned by Boulder County, the cafe is the most recognizable landmark in the area. Wondervu came into being in the 1920s as a mountain-top retreat for lower-middle class and working class Denver residents.
For $990,000, the Wondervu Cafe can be yours.
“I’ve put a lot of work into the Wondervu,” said Ortiz-Clairmont, now 67. “I love it, but on the other hand, I think I need to enjoy life a little bit and be able to do some things I’ve been missing out on.”
She came to the area with her first husband, the late Leonard Ortiz, when she was 24 years old. Her parents, who ran their own restaurant in Denver, bought what was once called The Wondervu Cafe — which sold fare such as broasted chicken and hot dogs — but found running two restaurants too burdensome.
“My parent’s restaurant was called Nita’s Mexican Food,” she said. “I was a waitress and a cook there, so I grew up in the business.”
Ortiz-Clairmont said she and her husband already loved coming to the mountains to fish and hike, so it seemed like the perfect fit. She built her house nearby so she can enjoy the 60-mile stretch of the Front Range at work and at home.
Located along Colo. 72 in Coal Creek Canyon, The Wondervu Cafe has become something of a community hub for area residents. The gift shop next door carries a book by a local scientist and a set of astronomy cards by another, according to gift shop employee Sondra Fields.
“We try to find the things you don’t find anywhere else,” Fields said.
Ortiz-Clairmont said the building that houses the restaurant has grown over the years, but when she first started off, making $50 a day seemed like a big deal. She says the cafe is centrally located between Arvada, Boulder, Nederland and Black Hawk, so she sees business from all those locations.
In the winter months, however, she depends on the locals to sustain the business.
“Their business is really important to us,” she said. “That’s what keeps us going.”
Ortiz-Clairmont said the restaurant specializes in home-style, but health-conscious Mexican fare like enchiladas and tostadas, but also offers burgers and sandwiches. She also manufactures her own brand of fudge as well as salsa, and has used the slow times in the winter to experiment and refine her recipes.
“We are very careful with what we put in our food,” Ortiz-Clairmont said. “We eat here. If we are going to eat here, we might as well eat good.”
Widholm has worked at the Wondervu for about 10 years and makes the trek up the mountain from the Denver area every day to serve food and chat with customers. She said it’s worth the long drive, because she likes the casual atmosphere and the community feel.
“I love a more family-style, mom-and-pop place,” she said. “People feel comfortable. It’s not like at some corporate places. ... It’s not all prim and proper. We just have fun.”
Linda Martin, a Coal Creek Canyon resident, eats at the cafe about once a week with her son and his father. Martin said Ortiz-Clairmont has always supported the Coal Creek Canyon Park and Recreation District, specifically it’s yearly Mountain Fest that happens in the summer.
“I love that it’s here,” Martin said. “We live in a bedroom community where most of the people get their needs met down below. It’s nice to have some brick and mortar places to go.”
Coal Creek Canyon resident Gene Rogers said he eats at the restaurant a few times a week with his wife, and has done so for many years. Rogers, who has volunteered with the Coal Creek Canyon Fire Protection District, said Ortiz-Clairmont took care of the firefighters.
“They’ve always been good to us,” he said. “They served us free coffee when we had fires around here. Whenever there are fires, Adeline usually steps up and brings us coffee and that type of thing. ... She’s got a big heart.”
Ortiz-Clairmont said that running a restaurant can be nerve-racking work, particularly when it gets busy and you suddenly find yourself shorthanded. She depends on her son, Derrick Ortiz, who has worked at the restaurant for many years.
“He still makes my chips and my rellenos,” she said. “He always makes sure I’m well supplied.”
Ortiz-Clairmont said if she had to do it over again,she would. Her biggest regret is not taking photos of staff who often return years later with their children and grandchildren.
“It would be so fun to have a album of everyone,” she said. “Their kids could see mom and dad when they were doing the dishes or washing the floor.”
John Bear: 303-473-1355, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/johnbearwithme