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AETHER Asks: Restaurateur and Bartender Bryan Dayton

AETHER Asks: Restaurateur and Bartender Bryan Dayton

Boulder, Colorado-based Bryan Dayton is an athlete’s athlete who has not only completed the grueling, 24-hour, 100-mile ultramarathon the Leadville Trail 100, he’s also known to take on high-altitude 50k races on his days off—oh, and sometimes he wins them. When he is not trail-running, he might be exploring the backcountry on his snowboard or navigating mountain twisties on his motorcycle. But his talents aren’t confined to the outdoors. Dayton was named GQ Bombay Sapphire’s most inspired bartender in the country in 2011, earning him a spot on the cover of the magazine’s Man of the Year issue. Dayton now spends his days overseeing his empire of acclaimed Rocky Mountain restaurants—spread across Boulder, Denver and Big Sky, Montana—but crafting a creative cocktail is still one of his favorite things to do. Here, we catch up with this man on-the-go to learn about his love for long-distance running, how AETHER works for his many hobbies, and why to him, restaurants are really just about making people happy. ↓

Tell us about how you got into the restaurant business.
I got into the restaurant business when I was 15. I started washing dishes in a small Italian restaurant in my hometown scrubbing lasagna pans. I found a love for food and dinners from family events when I was a kid. I think this is what started my passion.

Tell us about your background and what led you to opening your first restaurant.
When I was 20, I knew I wanted to open my own restaurant someday and wanted to be a bartender. I got my first bartending job at Juanita’s Mexican restaurant in Boulder at 21. I loved it. It was a party every night—lots of hard work and so much fun. This really set the tone for being fast and aware behind the bar. I went on to finish my bartending career at [Boulder’s James Beard award-winning] Frasca Food and Wine, and that was like getting my Masters in the industry. I knew after leaving Frasca I wanted to open my own space.

When did you open your first restaurant?
At 37, 17 years after knowing I wanted my own space, it came to fruition. We opened OAK at Fourteenth. I met my business partner, Steven Redzikowski, at Frasca, and we started out on the wild journey of the restaurant business. ↓

How many restaurants do you currently have?
I currently have five restaurants and one dessert shop. OAK is the OG. It’s an American-inspired eatery based around wood-fired cooking and classic cocktails. BriDer is our quick, casual restaurant in Denver based around beautiful rotisserie chicken. Corrida is a Spanish-inspired chophouse in Boulder. It’s based on regenerative beef programs and pays homage to the Spanish roots of the American cattle industry. There are lots of tapas as well. Bellota is our taqueria and tequila and mezcal restaurant in Denver with influences from all over Mexico. Niseko Ramen is our small shop with warm bowls of noodles, small bites and amazing beverages in Big Sky, Montana. And Melted is a soft-serve ice cream spot with cookies and Thai ice cream sandwiches.

You have won several awards for your cocktail creations as well and are something of a rock star in that world. Tell us about that part of your career and how you honed your craft.
Bartending was and still is where my heart is. I love great beverages. I’ve had a passion for the craft since I was young. I knew after a few years of bartending I want to become the best bartender I could, so I studied and worked hard on knowing as much as I could about all beverages—spirits, wines, beers, non-alcoholic offerings, and coffee and teas. It’s all part of the ecosystem for a great bartender. You see this reflected in all the restaurants’ beverage programs. Lastly, being a bartender is a ton of fun!

Why do you love what you do?
I love knowing we make the world a better place for moments of people’s lives inside our restaurants. We don’t always succeed, but we do for the most part. This is where the special sauce is. I’m all about throwing parties and making people happy. ↓

You are a huge outdoorsman—tell us about what you do when you’re not working.
I’ve been camping and in the woods since I was a small child. I’m a huge trail-runner. I was a sponsored trail-runner for a decade. I love being able to get to cool places fast and enjoying what Mother Earth has given us. I’m also a huge snowboarder and motorcycle enthusiast. I go camping every time I get a chance with my two sons.

How do your outdoor pursuits help you to balance the stress of your job?
My job is super demanding on several different levels. It’s a constant grind even when I’m on the road or outside. There are always emails and calls. The outdoors and being in nature really help me calm down and have a clear mindset for the things I need to do in my profession. [Being in nature] helps keep me stay grounded and have perspective on all things.

What brought you to Boulder, and why do you love it?
I’ve been in Boulder off and on since ’95. I love Boulder. It’s an amazing place to live and raise children. The access to trails is perfect for me. I can run out my door onto dirt in 10 minutes and be back to work in a short time. It’s rare to have all the beauty and all the amenities Boulder provides for a great lifestyle. ↓

How did you find AETHER?
I found AETHER in Aspen and immediately fell in love with the brand. I was like, This is my tribe. It’s outdoor gear for all my favorite activities with a modest approach to fashion design.

How does AETHER work into your outdoor life and your everyday life?
There’s not a day I don’t wear AETHER. I wear it at work, snowboarding, trail-running and relaxing when I get a chance.

Do you have a favorite piece or pieces of AETHER?
This is an impossible question! The Mojave Motorcycle Pants are my favorite, and the Omega Jacket is my everyday go-to.

Do you have a favorite place you’ve worn AETHER?
Wearing the Tromso Jacket in the Arctic circle in Finland was my favorite place I’ve worn AETHER. ↓

What is your favorite place to travel and why?
I’d say anywhere in Spain or the Rocky Mountains. Spain is so diverse and amazing. From beautiful places to run trails, ride bikes and chill on the beach to all the food and beverage choices, it never fails to entice. The Rocky Mountains will always be home no matter if I’m in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, or Idaho.

What is biggest lesson you took away from the last year and a half?
To focus on what’s important. To understand what needs to change and not run back to old ways that needed changing. To understand everything will be good one way or another. It was a wild ride in the restaurant business. •

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