RAWLINS – It was Dec. 31, 2018 when people ate their last meals at Aspen House.
It was a bittersweet moment when the Dirck family locked the restaurant’s doors that night, because they weren’t sure when they would be reopening. After 25 years of serving thousands of people, both Rawlins and Carbon County locals as well as tourists, a pipe had burst inside the building, meaning months of renovations and cleanup.
After almost exactly one year to the day, Aspen House is reopening its doors on Sunday afternoon. While the past year has been strange, filled with renovations, revamps and just not having the day-to-day grind of the restaurant, co-owner Lena Dirck is ready to get back into the swing of things.
“I honestly think the pipe bursting in the building was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “It gave us a chance to start over.”
People were worried about the changes the Dirck family might make during the restaurant’s closing, but Lena Dirck assured that Aspen House would still be the beautiful steakhouse it’s been for more than two decades.
There will be some changes, however, mainly to the menu. Some of the adjustments will include weekly specials, more seasonal dishes and the inclusion of more fresh fish and Asian fusion dishes, due to Lena Dirck’s Singaporean roots. The menu still has classic steakhouse items like crab cakes, ribeyes and racks of lamb, but also more unique ones like fire cracker duck, pan fried noodles and kalbi beef. They’re also now including entree complements like snow and Alaskan king crab legs, lobster tail and grilled shrimp.
They will also make slight changes to the menu for various holidays and seasons to provide more fresh dishes.
For the month of December, the restaurant will be open for seven days a week, from 5-9 p.m. They do take walk-ins, but reservations are recommended, especially with the restaurant’s reopening. For the rest of winter, they will revert to being open every day but Sunday for the same hours, going back to seven days a week in the spring.
“Some people heard we were going to be reopening for lunch when we opened back up, but we haven’t done that for a couple of years,” Lena Dirck said. “We just want to clarify that although we won’t be reopening for lunch hours, we will still do lunch catering for parties of 20 or more.”
The restaurant can also be rented for various events and will still include the seclusion and romantic atmosphere it’s become famous for over the years.
They’ll also be bringing back the chef that helped Aspen House get off the ground in 1995, Anthony Sanchez.
“He worked for us for a couple years, then moved to Rock Springs,” Lena Dirck said. “Three months ago, he moved back to town and he’s been helping me put the kitchen together. He’s going to work side-by-side with me as the kitchen manager. It’s kind of a miracle that he moved back to town and came back to work with us.”
The gorgeous Victorian home that houses the steakhouse was built in 1905 and used for many years as a doctor’s office. It changed hands in the 1970s, acting as a law office. Lena and Jim Dirck bought the house in 1993 with the dream of creating their own restaurant.
As a native of Singapore, Lena grew up in her family’s restaurant. She’s always been surrounded by happy family members cooking massive amounts of delicious food, so she wanted to provide that to the city of Rawlins.
“To have a variety of food, you almost have to drive all the way to Denver,” Lena Dirck said. “I’m from a big city with a lot of choices, so I wasn’t used to being somewhere like Rawlins with limited options. I told my husband that we could try this restaurant idea out and see how it works.”
Twenty-five years later, Lena Dirck can definitely say that the idea worked.
Now that the restaurant is reopening, the Dirck family is ready for Rawlins locals and tourists to see what they’ve been missing out on for nearly a year.
“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to work,” Lena Dirck said. “We had an open house a couple weeks ago and people were really impressed with the work we’d done. It’s fresh, beautiful and updated. We didn’t completely change the restaurant, because we know how much people love it, but we did want to update it. We’re so ready to come back and so appreciative that people have been willing to wait for us. It’s exciting.”
Ellen Fike is a freelance writer living in Cheyenne. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @EllenLFike.