By Dawne Belloise
“I’m a jerky pusher,” Jamie Watt laughs when asked about his award-winning Jamie’s Jerky. “I give out a free taste and then they’re hooked. I get phone calls at 10 o’clock at night from people saying, ‘Jamie, I need a pound bag.’ I carry samples with me all the time. I carry it in my car because people flag me down on the street.”
Everyone knows the locally made Jamie’s Jerky, which began 40 years ago when Watt and his then-wife happened to stop in a little Texas town known for its smoked meats, BBQ and beef jerky.
“Jerky wasn’t a well known thing back then, other than Slim Jim beef sticks.” After one taste, Jamie knew he had to have more and figured he could make his own but it took him five years of experimentation to come up with the right combination of flavorings and meat.
He started giving it to friends, and “More and more town people got addicted to it,” he smiles and now prints a caution on his bags, “Warning: You will become addicted.”
Jamie started his young life in Ann Arbor, Mich., moving to Summit, N.J. at the age of four. When he was in fifth grade his parents moved the family to Chappaqua, N.Y. “Both places were only 45 minutes out of NYC, but both Summit and Chappaqua were heavily wooded. I lived a Tom Sawyer life, playing outside all day long. We went barefoot, playing in streams, lakes and rivers. There were no video games and barely any TV. There were trails that dated back to Native American days, and Revolutionary War soldiers used those trails.”
In high school, Jamie discovered soccer. “Back then the only soccer was either on the East or West Coast. Soccer wasn’t as popular of a sport with Americans.” He started soccer in ninth grade and played until he was 60, forming the Crested Butte adult co-ed soccer team 25 years ago.
When he graduated from high school in 1970, Jamie spent a second senior year in Villars, Switzerland, a little ski town like Crested Butte. “I got really good at ordering food and wine in French at restaurants. We had field trips all over Europe.” He figured he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor, so he enrolled at the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) for pre-med.
The year he was in Switzerland, Watts’ mom had moved to Niwot, Colo., north of Denver, and opened the Cottonwood Cottage restaurant there. Jamie married one of her wait staff. They had a daughter, Anne, and four years later, Sasa (Melissa). He was still attending CU and on weekends he was building a house for his mom in Estes Park.
“I was self-taught. We didn’t know how to pour a footing or how to lay cinder block so we’d go watch another crew doing it,” Watts recalls. It took two years of weekends to finish the 5,000-square-foot house. When it was completed, a lady pulled up to the house and asked if they wanted to build her a house, so Jamie and a friend decided to start to a construction company, “because we didn’t want to tell her that we really weren’t a construction company. Back in the old days, even in Crested Butte, we had the same crew for everything—drywall, paint, framing and foundations,” he says.
After three years at CU, Jamie decided that construction was pretty lucrative so he found a business college near the beach in San Diego and moved his family there in a 1954 Chevy school bus he had converted into a deluxe motorhome. “We rented a tiny shack half a block from Ocean Beach. Our dining table was an old door on two cinder blocks. We only had $2,000 to our name and spent it on a 16-foot Hobie Cat. Neither of us had ever sailed before but we got really good at it and entered regattas.”
His intention wasn’t to get a degree but to take the courses that would enable him to run a construction business, so after learning all he needed, the family moved back to Boulder in 1979. He had restarted his construction business when the country fell into a recession. “The price of oil was so high and what that meant was that wealthy Texans were doing well and ski towns like Crested Butte were booming.” With no work on the Front Range, while visiting Crested Butte Jamie asked if they were hiring workers at the Buttes condo construction site. “At the time I was only 22 and had already built five houses by then,” he recalls, and they hired him on the spot.
“We didn’t know what the town looked like because it was one of the heaviest snow years and the town didn’t do snow removal from the sidewalks of Elk, so there were tunnels to all the businesses. I remember dogs running across the rooftops.” Jamie remembers his first day at work on the mountain, saying, “I got up to go to work—it was negative 24 degrees and that was the end of March. It was the Wild West back then in Crested Butte. There was a 50-man crew and every Friday, we’d finish a keg and go downtown and tear up the town, mostly at the Wooden Nickel.”
A year later in 1982, he restarted Alpine Construction, building the first homes in GoldLink, the Danni Ranch, Red Mountain Ranch, Prospect, Larkspur and the Silver Ridge condos.
In the mid-1980s, hit with yet another recession and people moving out of town, the East Coast was the only place booming in the country with the stock market going crazy, so Jamie loaded up the family and a five-man crew from Crested Butte and moved them all to Connecticut.
“It was like the Beverly Hillbillies with trailers full of tools and furniture. I was able to land a job building a custom home for a doctor back there and my company immediately became the preferred builder in that part of the country, because after building in Crested Butte, you can handle anything. My crew was the only crew who would work eight hours a day whether raining or snowing. If the temperature got down to 40 degrees or if it was raining or snowing, the state would shut down. We were like a tourist attraction—people would come watch us working in the snow, but it was nothing for us.”
When the stock market crashed in 1988 and killed the economy back East, Jamie moved back to the Butte, as a single guy, landing the bid to build the largest house in the county at the time. Fifteen years ago, he got his real estate license, because, why not? Currently, he’s with Crested Butte Resort Realty at the base area.
Jamie wrapped up 18 years on the Mt. Crested Butte Planning Commission board. He’s also on the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board. He’s mostly retired from construction but still owns Alpine Construction and does maintenance on some of the buildings he’s built, a bit of property management and if someone begs him, he might consider another building job. And, of course, he’s still skiing.