On Jan. 1, 2022, a year of talks culminated in the sale of Mark Fischer and Lari Goode’s Phat Thai restaurant to local Eric Mitchell and his talented but silent business partner.
An alluring anchor on Main Street since December 2003, Phat Thai has long been a congenial, social crossroads; a place to gather over superb cocktails and luscious eats. Its mischievous menu is a spicy invite to shuck the B.S. and imbibe:
“Our cravings always migrate toward Asian, particularly Thai. The smell of mint, cilantro, and peanuts, the radiant warmth of Thai chili, the satisfying richness and funk of fish sauce, the acidic slap in the face of lime. It’s as heart-warming to us as our grandmother’s cooking… except, of course, she wasn’t Thai either.”
As Mitchell processes the reality of ownership — cringing at the word — he shares thoughts with The Sopris Sun. We meet first at Craft Coffee, where Fischer’s award-winning Six89 restaurant reigned for 14 years. Still abashed, we speak in low voices, giggling at how many community faces stop by to catch up.
“It’s a town full of so many ‘mayors!’” he exclaims. “It really is. It’s so special.”
At our feet, Phoebe sniffs, wandering beneath tables. Her bright eyes are framed in fluffy-black, Yoda-like ears. Her curiosity is gentle.
They’re a common duo around town. “She’s a part of my connection to this community,” says Mitchell. Phoebe’s a mayor herself!
“There’s an alchemy in this community, and it’s ‘community.’ New arrivals see and recognize it as special … but it’s at the edge of their perception. Like a pitch you can’t see, but it’s elevating your mood, you know? This is our job, to pass it on, to tell it.”
Mitchell was a new arrival just a decade ago. In Minnesota, “I was rehabbing birds of prey during the day — for free,” he says, astonished now. “I was a volunteer. I was convinced it would lead to greater things. It just never did. When they passed on me after five or six years to become staff … I’m sure they could see.”
“I was so rutted. I was sad, I was unhealthy. I’ve known — since I’ve known what mountains were — that I would live in them. Watching Disney … Adventure Mountain,” he trails off.
Oscillating between St. Paul and Breckenridge, pulled by a cosmopolitan hospitality scene, Mitchell was drawn to community among musicians while managing a live music venue. He also worked for a celebrity chef. And he fell in love, followed by a “country song” break up. Those years infused him with an adroitness (skillful cleverness) on par with Phat Thai. In the mountains again, managing a business with an exceptional culture, Mitchell began evolving as a human again.
“Mark and Lari build these relationships where they build people up; give them opportunity, in every way, to thrive.” He describes a James Beard Award-driven epicurean adventure that they treated him to in New York City. “They make connections and help guide people’s visions. They have such clear vision.”
We walk Phoebe to the dog park; run into friends; congratulate a cherished couple who were finally able to buy a home. The Bonedale glow sets in. We swipe at happy tears over multiple laps.
“I feel like the universe is falling apart,” he bursts out. “Why do I have so many blessings falling down on me? It’s unbelievable! Carbondale allows me to be me.”
On a recent Friday morning, Eric’s door opens to downtempo yoga tunes and a tail wagging a dog. His mat is on the floor, and Phoebe flops down, chewing a squeaky at our feet. Vintage posters are framed across the wall, along with works by local artists he supports. Spring is pushing in at the glass windows. Hot coffee in hand, we try to define the significance of buying this iconic restaurant, impossible without financial support from friends and patrons.
“Phat Thai is going to allow me to make bigger goals happen. And one of them, a chief one, is this opportunity and capacity to be able to give back to this community. To help maintain it.”
He describes an ecosystem — Phat Thai, employees, people at large — all worthy of fair income, affordable and stable housing and personal success. It’s balanced and interdependent, “because we are an ecosystem. We recognize this. We don’t exist without the rest of Carbondale,” he exclaims. “I don’t want to thrive in Carbondale if Carbondale isn’t thriving. I feel like I’m preparing to flourish, and I know my ethic will not allow me to flourish alone.”