(No, not that Charlie Brown)
[ by Dawne Belloise ]
Chef Charlie Brown spent his first 28 years in his hometown of Atlanta. Growing up, he tells that his grandfather was a huge foodie and adored Italian food and mom and pop places, so Charlie’s palette was diversified from an early age. “I’m eating escargot at 6. We’d finish dinner at Scalini’s and the chef would take me back to the kitchen to make desserts for my family and I’d be back there plating up desserts,” he says of the childhood experiences that influenced his dream to become a chef.
“My dad’s side is southern redneck and my mom’s side is more cultured,” Charlie grins. ”I was the first in my bloodline to leave the state,” he adds of his close-knit family who all still live within minutes of each other. “It took me 28 years to figure out that it was as simple as packing a car and leaving.” Charlie had chef ambitions but in a city like Atlanta he explains that it’s not so easy to rise to recognition and find decent work. “There are a million people in front of you with fabulous resumes and a million behind you, so it’s hard to shine.”
Atlanta wasn’t a healthy place to be for Charlie, especially if you’re someone with drug issues, but he quickly wizened up, realizing that if he stayed, he’d be having the same reoccurring problems with the same people. “Nothing changes if nothing changes,” he felt, and headed off to the Ocoee River with a friend, where he learned to raft and enjoyed the river rat life. After two years of being a river runner, he opted to check out Snowshoe, West Virginia, for winter employment. “I found my wintertime passion when I was fat and 30 years old,” he laughs. “I was immediately head over heels for snowboarding and I never looked back on skis.”
The restaurants in Snowshoe were mediocre, Charlie felt, and he explained that it’s hard to keep staff who have a typical ski bum lifestyle. “Most people don’t want to get up early and work late,” he says, but when they discovered Charlie was a hard- working cook, “I was in line for being a chef.” While he was river running on the Ocoee in the summer, Snowshoe asked him to return to full-time work running the commissary department. He wound up running one of the nicest restaurants, the Sunset Cantina. The job reignited his passion for cooking, and he says that he learned everything, “by the seat of my pants.” He later took a chef position at a private restaurant, South Mountain Grill, a high-end, fine dining establishment on top of the mountain, however, he decided to move on in 2014. “I felt I wasn’t growing there,” he says.
Charlie followed some friends to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to try out beach life. “It was the biggest tourist trap I’d ever seen in my life, between a go-cart track and a putt-putt golf course with screaming children all day long. It was miserable. I missed my rivers and my mountains. I was getting paid like a bandit but I hated the place,” he laments, so he bought a car, loaded it up and drove to Colorado where he’d never been and didn’t know a single soul. “But I knew I loved shredding mountains and new whitewater and I knew the best was out here.”
He landed in Keystone in 2015 and started working at Alpenglow Stube, Vail’s only AAA, 4-Diamond restaurant. “It was a very exciting opportunity. I started as sous chef and when the executive chef quit mid-season, I buckled up and took over that position.” However, he felt he had bitten off more than he could chew. “But I nailed it. I ended up not having time to myself but I made it work.”
Charlie had enjoyed the small feeling community of both the Ocoee and Snowshoe where everyone knew everyone, and Keystone definitely did not have that small town vibe. “It kinda broke my heart. I had a friend who had found their way to Crested Butte and said, you have to come visit this town. I’m very quick at changing my life, when I visit a town I love, I weigh the pros and cons. CB offered me that same small town feel and you can’t walk down the street without getting your neck hugged.” That winter, he secured a job at Uley’s Cabin on the mountain and entrenched himself in the Buttian lifestyle. “CB had 100% of what I love and on this mountain there’s always a challenge if you want it. It has some of the gnarliest stuff I’ve ever seen.”
He spent his first season as a sous chef and the next two seasons as executive chef. During the summers he became the executive chef of conference services, doing all the events and all the weddings, including 64 weddings in one season.
In 2017, Charlie took a ground floor opportunity when a friend opened a restaurant in Breckenridge. “As much as I didn’t want to leave CB, I always wanted to be an owner and this seemed like my opportunity.” The restaurant was a phenomenal success, staying open all through COVID as a quick service restaurant, “where people could grab and go and we were just churning out food. But with COVID happening, I had to let go all of my staff and it was only the three owners working 90 hours a week.” Plus, he realized, “I absolutely despise Summit County and I missed CB.” So, he sold his shares and came home.
He took a position with the Crested Butte Catering Company and claims, “It’s the happiest I’ve been in all my cooking career. I went from working 90 hours a week to a reasonable work schedule, making better money and putting out better food. We’re poised to take over the world,” he laughs, half-jokingly. He does weddings, birthdays and private cheffing, sometimes staying somewhere for a week.
Charlie is also a spare time musician, playing mandolin, guitar, bass, drums and a little keys. “I took piano as a kid. I played with quite a few bands when I was 16 until I was 28, when I left Atlanta, everything from classic rock to metal to scream rock.”
Unfortunately, while on vacation in Mexico, Charlie’s retina detached. Having to stay in Mexico for an extra month sounds like heaven, except if you’ve had to extend your time there because in the middle of your much anticipated vacation your retina detaches. “I was having such a good time. It was my first vacation in a decade, then I had to have emergency eye surgeries,” describes Charlie who has been through six surgeries since, trying to save his eyesight. “They said the Mexican surgeons did a good job, but it had to be redone,” he said his doctors told him. “I’m tired of getting laid out of work and fun and everything else.” This is his second season of not being able to snowboard or do any of the outdoor activities he loves.
Charlie shares the same sentiment as most locals concerning the changing town. “As far as the housing market, short-term rentals are ruining our town, people are moving out every day. I regularly hear of people who’ve lived here for like 15 years, their place is sold, and they have to leave and some of these people are business owners. For the price of a mid-sized sedan, I was able to rent a tiny apartment in town.” But he feels that he’s found his community here. “CB is my home and this is where I’ll be. I’m going to stick it out, with anything that’s evolving and changing. This place makes my heart happy.”