Meadow Mountain Café stays true to its roots

A proud local family restaurant Siblings Joe and Jenny St. John in their restaurant kitchen after a day feeding hungry customers at the Meadow Mountain Café. PHOTO BY KIRK C. WATKINS

The Meadow Mountain Café in Allenspark has been serving fresh, home-cooked meals to residents of the Allenspark area for seventeen years, and original menu food from years before. Three siblings from St. John, Joe, Ben and Jenny, have taken over the iconic cafe and continue the family tradition that their mother started over forty years ago.

Joe St. John is Meadow Mountain’s owner and head chef. He started working at Meadow Mountain when he was thirteen and has worked there for fourteen years. Joe now works alongside his older brother Ben and their older sister Jenny.

“He was thirteen when he started working here,” Ben said. “So he’s twenty-seven now.” Fourteen years old.’ Joe says he’s been cooking all this time. Ben acknowledges this with a bit of pride mixed with brotherly good humor. Meadow Mountain Coffee is truly a family business and has been since its inception.

“What kind of things do you cook? I asked Jo.

“The menu,” was the response.

This was followed by hearty laughter from the reunited family. It was a Sunday, a little after two o’clock in the afternoon, and the cafe had just closed for the day. Stephanie Duell, her daughter Nova and her husband Taylor, all from Estes Park, sat in the cozy dining room with Ben sharing a table and a cup of coffee after the shift.

“I’ve known him since I was five, for thirty years,” Taylor said, referring to Ben.

They were basically raised as brothers in the Estes Park area. Their family roots run deep in this region.

Joe walks in and out of the kitchen to clean it up while Jennifer seems to be everywhere at once, cleaning and smoothing.

“This place has been around since the 1940s,” Joe said, “while I made up a lot of things…the menu has actually been around since 1946.”

“Our original menu, we have a cookbook from the forties, with lots of original recipes,” he said. “A lady named Lily actually owned the place across the street, and her husband built this place. She turned it into a pie shop, and then slowly turned it into a restaurant.

Although the cafe still shows signs of the original shop, the building had two owners before St. John’s mother took over the cafe in 2007. According to the two sons, she had worked in the shop for 20 to 30 years before finally buying it. and began serving home-cooked meals to hungry diners. Joe learned to cook from his mother, watching her cook in the kitchen and learning her recipes. After her death, the children decided to continue what she had started.

Their older sister, Jenny, came out of the kitchen and joined in the conversation. She’s the face of the cafe, managing the front of the house while little brother Joe cooks up his creations in the kitchen.

“I would say Joe is the one running the back, and I’m running the front,” she said, “and then the rest…everything else, racing and stuff, we let’s do it together.”

The family is from Colorado, born and raised in the Wild Basin area.

“I love it and I love having my kids here. Being a part of this is pretty awesome,” Jenny said, and continued with a laugh, “as a teenager I hated it. Jenny has six kids, including three attend schools in Estes Park and three in Denver.

Being born and raised in the region, the roots of the family run deep. “It’s really cool because we know all the locals and are friends with everyone.”

“It’s friends and family,” Ben added.

They don’t plan to change much in the future, having carved out a comfortable place for themselves in the local food scene. “I would say, for the restaurant, keep it small, keep it local as it is,” Jenny said, “we’re looking at expanding it into different areas, but this particular restaurant and area, we’re going keep the same.

The Meadow Mountain has not been immune to the effects of the pandemic which has ravaged local businesses and communities. They said that although the local community supported them to the best of their abilities, they were forced to close for over six months, during the winter of 2020.

“Once we got back it was almost like it didn’t happen, everyone came running back,” she said. “We’re pretty lucky.”

Jenny had a message for her loyal customers and friends. “We love and appreciate everyone, without them we wouldn’t be here,” she said, “we love what we do, and that helps.”

The Meadow Mountain Café is located at 441 Business Hwy 7, Allenspark, Colorado. The cafe will be open Friday through Monday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the winter months and as long as there are customers to feed.

Chris B. Hall