Alex Seidel taps Stephanie Caraway, Food & Wine magazine sommelier of the year, as a partner in his new restaurant
Fruition chef-owner Alex Seidel is still mulling over the name of his new restaurant and European-style market, which will open in Union Station next summer, but he's made at least one concrete decision that will undoubtedly ensure that the wine program rivals any in Denver: Seidel has enlisted Stephanie Caraway, a Food & Wine magazine Sommelier of the Year and the former wine director at Chef's Table, a restaurant in Iowa that amassed stacks of accolades for its stellar wine list and French cuisine before shuttering in 2012, as his new partner in the unnamed restaurant -- and as the front-of-the-house manager at Fruition, where she'll oversee the floor and wine experience.
The two met in Napa Valley in 2010 -- the same year that Seidel was named a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef -- and Caraway says there was instant synergy. "We started talking about food and wine and we hit if off immediately," recalls Caraway, who moved to Denver a year and half ago to partner with Seidel on the new restaurant. "When we met, I told her that I wanted to do a new concept in Denver, and we started glamorizing about two people in the food and wine business opening a restaurant together," adds Seidel, who also owns Fruition Farms Dairy and Creamery.
Caraway, who's originally from Texas, and has also worked in restaurants in Arizona and New York City (she was a server at Balthazar), is currently the fine wine educator of the west for Terlato Wines, where she oversees the company's high imports portfolio, but at the end of this month, she'll leave that behind and come on board full-time at Fruition to run the front of the house and elevate the wine syllabus. "When I met Stephanie, I could tell that she was really into her craft -- that she's consumed to the point that it almost defines her," says Seidel. "She brings a great mix of energy, credibility and experience, which is something I really couldn't find here," he adds.
And Seidel acknowledges that the wine list at Fruition isn't the restaurant's strongest attribute. "The wine list definitely needs the most work, and Stephanie's background is perfect for making sure that it evolves and has focus, direction and seasonality," says Seidel. "And she has an amazing way with guests and making people happy," he adds.
Caraway is equally complimentary of her new partner. "Alex is so honest, which you can see in the way he runs his business and the way he takes care of his family -- both his immediate family, his restaurant family, his farm family and his purveyors -- and he's just a flat-out great cook," she says.
Interestingly, Seidel admits that he never thought he'd open a restaurant, much less a restaurant like Fruition. "I never had any money -- I was a struggling cook in massive debt," he remembers. But with some financial assistance from friends and family, he was able to scrape together the working capital to buy the restaurant from Sean Kelly, who sold the space to Seidel in 2006, after closing Somethin' Else. The farm, explains Seidel, was "the next process for me, so I could better understand food as a whole," and the Union Station restaurant, he says, "is my dream."