A short order cook juggles six frying pans filled with eggs, tortillas and breakfast meats. Ironically, that is the same number of Porsches I count whizzing by on Hwy. 82 while I’m eating S.O.S (creamed chip toast) and hash browns. The luxury car owners were lured by the Food and Wine Classic, Aspen’s Saturday Farmers Market, Maroon Bells selfies and Aspen Mountain opening for a unicorn-rare mid-June ski day. Barely perceivable behind the El Jebel RFTA bus stop is Breakfast In America, one of the best places to eat in the Roaring Fork Valley.
For the first 24 years, BIA only offered bar seating. Locals might recall an occasional line out the door while patrons waited to sit around the bar. With renovations in early 2019, the restaurant has expanded to offer tabletops and limited outdoor seating. The extra space has relieved the pressure of the diner’s popularity, claims Dan Weis, the long-time owner of Breakfast in America.
Weis is known for his quirkiness and candor. Some in the valley can remember him driving around a long time ago, with a comically oversized wire whisk in the gun rack of his truck.
On this particular Saturday, Dan strolls into the establishment around 10:30 a.m. Wearing a pocketed tan cargo shirt and faded ball cap, he surveys the dining room. Nearly all of the tables inside are full, two-thirds of the patio and half a dozen patrons are seated at the famous bar. He quietly consults with the staff and then begins to bus tables, chatting with out-of-towners scraping their plates for every last morsel. The room is bustling with conversation.
Weis pulls up a chair to my table to tell his story. Of course, it starts with pizza.
“I was brought up in the restaurant business,” says Weis. His dad owned a two-floor pizzeria restaurant in West Chicago. “We called the upstairs pizza restaurant the ‘Tumble In’. The bar was downstairs and known as the ‘Stumble Out’.” The pizzeria was close to railroad shipping yards, so many of Weis’ first customers were hard laboring trainmen. Engineers and track workers kept the place busy.
At the age of 17, when his family moved to Galena, Ill., Weis took a job in a bed and breakfast with a medieval theme. He spent the next two years learning how to butcher and grind meats, as well as the finer details of cooking. Under the watchful eye of a senior chef, Weis gained the experience he would need for his upcoming journeyman phase.
Like many young men, Weis headed west to Colorado searching for his place in the world. For a short time in his early 20s, he was an executive chef in Iowa. Eventually he arrived in Carbondale in 1984. The Village Smithy, owned by Chris and Terry Chacos, was where Weis put down roots in the Roaring Fork Valley. He credits Chris with teaching him how to manage the business side of a restaurant.
It was at The Buffalo Valley Inn (in Glenwood Springs) where Dan honed his skills until 1997.
“It was a fun, kinda roadhouse atmosphere,” he says of Buffalo Valley. “We had live bands and a country vibe.” Weis credits Buffalo Valley’s Kurt Wigger as another mentor in his food service education.
When The Buffalo Valley shuttered its doors, he was out of work and needed a job. Weis worked in the meat department of the El Jebel City Market. Right across the highway was a small breakfast place, opened in 1994, by Kevin Slanika. The name of the restaurant was called Breakfast In America.
“I noticed BIA was closed a lot,” says Weis. “So I tied my resume to the doorknob… several times!” Finally Slanika was convinced that Weis would be a good fit for BIA and hired him to cook. After about six months building trust, Slanika asked Weis to manage BIA.
Then, in ’99, Slanika went back to Minnesota and offered to sell BIA to Weis. With his wife, Pauline Trujillo, Weis jumped at the opportunity, and became the official owner. “It was a seamless transition. We didn’t change a thing,” says Weis.
After more than 20 years BIA is still going strong. Weis gives all the credit to his staff. Nearly all of his front and back-of-house staff come from the same local family.
Salvador V. Soriano has been the cook at BIA for 13 years and is the one tasked with the frying pan juggling mentioned at the forefront. Smiling and chatting with patrons at the bar top while he slings food furiously, Salvador clearly loves his job.
He’s polite but his answers are compendious.
RFWJ: What’s the most popular breakfast order?
Salvador: MIGAS! We serve it hundreds of times.
RFWJ: Why do people like it?
Salvador: So good! So yummy! We perfected it.
Migas, a traditional Mexican breakfast dish, will cost you $10.99. You’ll get corn tortillas fried with chorizo, scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese. It’s topped with green onions and tomato and served with beans and hash browns.
The variety of Hispanic breakfast foods on the menu is a telltale sign of the burgeoning cultural confluence in El Jebel. As the population of the valley continues to diversify, there is a noticeable combination of ethnicities found at BIA.
“El Jebel is the center of the universe,”says Weis, tongue-in-cheek. “We’re like one of those bars in Star Wars.”
You never know who might walk in the door at Breakfast in America. Weis recalls shooing away a patron who was harassing actor Kurt Russell one morning. Around the time “Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2” was in the theater, Russell came into BIA wearing a hat and sat at the bar. A man at the other side of the bar began slapping the counter and demanded Russell remove his hat, presumably to identify the movie star. Weis was having nothing of it and intervened.
“We’re a low key, family restaurant,” says Weis. Customers still have to pour their own coffee, a time-honored tradition at BIA. However, waitresses will bring you silverware now — unless you seat yourself at the bar when you walk in the door.
Breakfast in America is located at 58 El Jebel Rd., El Jebel. BIA is open from 7 a.m. - 1:50 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. - 12:50 p.m. on Sunday.