Humble beginnings, sparkling finish
No job was ever too small for Hannah Hopkins.
As a restaurant newbie many years ago, her hands were often sunk into hot, sudsy water scrubbing plates until they sparkled. As she cleaned, she absorbed the atmosphere of a busy kitchen, and let’s just say, soaked it all in.
“I guess you could say I went to the school of hard knocks,” jokes the owner of Mambo and Bésame, thriving sister operations in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
“I went from doing dishes to bussing tables, to eventually work my way up to a head chef position.”
But before heading west to put down roots in the “true western ranching town” near the Rocky Mountains, Hopkins built her first restaurant — Dish Bistro and Wine Bar—just outside New York City in the town of Mahopac. This first effort landed her a positive New York Times review, an appearance on Food Network’s Chopped, and a successful exit deal after she sold the eatery.
When she arrived in Steamboat Springs with her husband, she had 20 years of hospitality under her belt. And she was only just beginning her best chapters.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Hopkins is excited. Her newly opened restaurant Bésame has earned her an invitation, along with her head chef Joe Campbell, to cook at the renowned James Beard Foundation next month.
Here, she talks about her hard-earned success.
Q: How did you get your start in hospitality?
I’ve spent my whole career in the restaurant industry. I started by bussing tables and doing dishes, and this led me to the kitchen, where I trained alongside chefs, and eventually worked my way up to a variety of head chef positions.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time. Early on, I owned a catering company and then created a restaurant called Dish Bistro and Wine Bar. I eventually sold that restaurant and my husband and I decided we wanted to make a major life change and leave New York.
Q: Tell me about Mambo in Steamboat Springs.
When we first moved out here, I sent my resume around and landed a head chef position at Mambo’s. After working there for about five years, I was offered a partnership and became the operating co-owner. By this point, I’d put a great team around me, and decided to revamp and rebrand Mambo’s.
Q: How did you infuse new life into Mambo?
We revamped the interior, giving it a modern-yet-rustic vibe. It’s an older building, with a rustic industrial look, with lots of exposed brick. It’s beautiful. Then outside we renovated the patio and made it more inviting. Our lower patio has a beautiful garden, soft lighting, a locally painted mural, and lots of plants. It’s very intimate, but it’s retains its feel of being a loud, busy, fun Italian restaurant with a fierce local following.
Q: What did you do with the old-fashioned Italian menu?
We started by making our own fresh pasta. So, a couple years after I was co-owner, I brought on our executive chef Joseph Campbell. He took us from traditional to modern Italian. A couple of examples: With our marsala he prepares duck instead of chicken. He makes both a confit and a pan-seared breast and uses an incredible chicken demi and serves it over white bean pancetta. The result is amazing! He does a beef tartare with black truffle perlage. The whole menu is like this, and his plating is crazy awesome! We also rebranded the restaurant name, shortening it from Mambo Italiano to Mambo’s.
Q: Business was so good at Mambo that you recently opened Bésame.
Bésame is completely different from Mambo’s. It’s more tapas style, family, and a foodie haven with a menu I think of as an exotic flavor bomb.
We have a lot of artwork on the walls, music, and craft cocktails. We’ve already had a lot of national recognition, which resulted in us being invited to James Beard in September to cook. It’s an incredible honor. And I want to add that this is all happening because of my stellar team.
Q: What advice do you have for budding restauranteurs?
My advice is to work yourself out of a job and create new opportunities. Work hard. Play hard. And try to provide those around you with the tools they need to succeed. — Mambo use Boxerbrand’s iCandy menu covers line in their table presentation. Thank you!