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For more than 40 years, hungry and thirsty skiers have flocked to Coffee and Tea Market, a cozy, plant-filled restaurant, coffee shop, and bar at the base of the slopes at Winter Park Resort. But during the coronavirus pandemic, it looked like the beloved cafe might be closing for good. Coffee and Tea Market shut down, along with Winter Park Resort and all of the state’s ski areas, in March 2020. When it didn’t reopen the following winter for the 2020–21 ski season, long-time patrons started to get worried.
Lucky for them, Skylr Olson and Laura Gray decided to make a serendipitous ski run in April 2021 that ultimately saved the landmark eatery. After skiing Winter Park’s slopes and peeking into the windows of the then-shuttered space—located above the ticket office on the second floor of Winter Park’s original base-area lodge, Balcony House—Olson and Gray decided to buy Coffee and Tea Market and keep its legacy alive. In November 2021, they reopened the market, welcoming back skiers and snowboarders with some of the cafe’s long-standing breakfast, lunch, and après-ski menu items and a few fresh, new options, too.
The husband-and-wife duo first met in 2011 at the Academy Boulder, a retirement community where Gray worked as a server and Olson worked as a chef. The two hit it off almost immediately, quickly sharing their plans and goals for the future. In one of their very first conversations, they both revealed that they hoped to someday own a cafe or restaurant. As their relationship blossomed, Gray and Olson ventured out of Boulder to explore the world—they canoed down the Colorado River, traveled around Southeast Asia for six months, rock climbed through New Zealand while living in a van, and went on a 17-day bike tour.
With the purchase of Coffee and Tea Market, they’re undertaking yet another new adventure together, albeit one that’s slightly more familiar to Olson, who grew up in Fraser. He has fond memories of hanging out at the market during his friends’ shifts there and while his mother worked at the ski area’s cafeteria. His family has since moved away from Fraser, but it still feels like a homecoming. “It was always the hangout spot,” he says. “There are funky chairlifts in there, so I’d be posted up in the corner with the chairlift doing homework.”
Though Olson and Gray had long dreamed of owning a cafe, the COVID-19 pandemic—along with the Denver metro area’s growing population—gave them the push they needed to make it happen. The pair had been living in Westminster, but decided it was the right time to make a lifestyle and career change. “As the Front Range is getting busier and COVID happened, it made us rethink, long-term, where we wanted to raise kids,” says Gray, who is 33. “The mountains have always had a good place in our hearts.”
For now, they’re easing into their first ski season as Coffee and Tea’s new owners. They’ve brought back many of the cafe’s made-to-order menu items and are working with some of the same vendors and purveyors, including Denver’s Novo Coffee. Longtime diners can still order the popular Railyard sandwich—pesto, tomato, red onion, ham, bacon, avocado, Jarlsberg cheese, and a scrambled egg omelet, served on a croissant—as well as the cafe’s legendary carrot cake, which Olson grew up eating.
They’re keeping much of the decor (while adding a few modern touches) and also hope to maintain the eatery’s vibe as a warm, casual locals’ spot that’s also welcoming to visitors. Coffee and Tea Market has long been a hangout for Winter Park employees, including ski instructors, as well as the coaches and athletes of the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which offers adaptive skiing programs at the resort. “We knew we wanted to be the locals’ spot,” says Olson, who is 32. “We didn’t want to be price-gouging people, we wanted to encourage ski schoolers to come in and have a good time with their friends and be able to afford it.”
They’re also introducing some new dishes, including several inspired by their travelers. Olson is making handheld meat pies inspired by their jaunt through New Zealand, as well as a yakisoba salad from the time they spent in Southeast Asia. He’s also making pork green chile, red beef chili, soups, and hearty panini sandwiches—with combinations like chicken, bacon, and ranch dressing—that are already proving popular among skiers and snowboarders coming in from the cold.
In the longer term, the couple hopes to begin offering daily specials and higher-end events like monthly wine dinners, Olson says. For now, though, they’re relishing the ability to go skiing nearly every day (Olson likes to close down the kitchen at 3 p.m., sneak out for a quick run, then come back and clean up) and the opportunity to keep such a cherished Winter Park spot open for business. “It’s just been there forever—everybody knows it and it has a great reputation,” Olson says. “It’s just this funky little spot.”
Open daily 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 33 Parsenn Rd., Winter Park, 970-363-7043