Summit Co. restaurateur, Vail chef partner to bring Spanish favorites to Winter Park
WINTER PARK — Kevin and Anyela Pelen, the owners of the new Paella’s Spanish bakery and restaurant in Cooper Creek, want everyone who walks in their door to feel warm, welcome and comfortable — like family.
With a menu full of elevated Spanish dishes, including several variations of the restaurant’s namesake, and a bar for wine, beer, sangrias and margaritas, Kevin Pelen said the goal is to make every meal as fresh, delicious and inviting as possible.
“We just want to be a part of the community so that everybody who comes feels comfortable, knowing that we’re going to take care of them,” he said. “We’re more than happy to make them happy, to feel like they’re eating at home.”
However, Paella’s won’t be sacrificing flavor for customer experience. Heading the kitchen is Neil Velasquez, a chef with over two decades of experience, including at two prestigious Vail restaurants, Restaurant Kelly Liken and Matsuhisa.
“I started (cooking) in 1995,” he explained. “I worked ten years in Guatemala and then moved to the United States, where I started work with the famous chef in Vail, Kelly Liken.”
Velasquez has worked in a variety of kitchens, but he has particular experience at fusion restaurants. He said he was especially looking forward to having his own kitchen and serving his own dishes.
As chef, Velasquez said he wants to make sure every dish is fresh and fast, which means using the best ingredients. He plans to drive to Denver twice a week to pick out the best produce and meat.
His favorite dish on the menu, aside from the paella, is the lomitos cabrales, a tenderloin dish with blue cheese sauce and potatoes. Velasquez also noted that the menu is majority gluten free and his dishes can be adjusted to be dairy free or allergen free.
Velasquez and Pelen are also excited to get creative with daily lunch specials and, in the summer, tapas and street paella, where the restaurant will bring the party outside.
They’re also hoping that the bakery will help draw customers in. With shelves stacked full of turnovers, empanadas, conchas, palmiers and more, Pelen said the bakery isn’t decidedly Spanish, but instead offers a wide selection for customers on-the-go or to sit and enjoy.
“Pastries are the same all over, they just change names,” he laughed. “We try to bring the best quality so people can leave happy.”
While paella and pastries don’t immediately seem to pair, Pelen said it is a combination that has worked for him in the past. He also co-owns the Panaderia La Escondida bakery and the Tacos Tequila Restaurant in Summit County.
“People might come for a pastry or something and then stop and get a paella or come back later on,” he explained.
Another lesson he learned from his experience in Summit that he plans to carry over is to keep the focus on the locals and become a part of the community.
“They’re the ones that support you every single day,” Pelen explained. “Tourists are really important, but you’re going to have tourism here no matter what in summer and winter, but locals are going to be here the entire year.”
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