If you’ve been in Durango for any amount of time, chances are you’ve noticed James Allred standing outside of Eolus Bar & Dining, saying ‘hello’ to passersby. You would have spotted his kind smile and friendly nod, and, most certainly, you would have been warmly welcomed into the Main Avenue restaurant through an already opened door.
Beyond that door, when guests step into this tastefully fashioned space—fabulously coarse brick walls, suspended lighting, and a theatrical crown-molded bar— they delight in the staff whose cordiality reflects the man smiling outside. You’re sure to see other smiling faces as well—some you may recognize while others are simply passing through town. All that you see on the surface of Eolus is pleasing to one’s eye — the cheerful people, the mouthwatering menu (for both food and drink), and the inviting atmosphere. But the chance that you’ll see, actually witness, what is going on behind the scenes is slim, because what you can’t see can only be described as magic.
While James is greeting guests at the open door, his partner and co-owner Chris Crowley is behind closed doors, creating the culinary sparks that translate into a delicious, eclectic cuisine. Scurrying back and forth on the line, a spatula in one hand and salt in the other, Chris is the man assembling the restaurant’s famous James Ranch burgers, rolling one of many sushi offerings, or stirring any number of sauces for dinner items. Chris makes sure that your food comes out with the same friendly warmth that welcomed you at the door. Between James and Chris and their complementary characteristics, Eolus runs like a well-oiled machine. This is because James and Chris built the machine into what it is today. They are the propelling force.
Opening in 2007 as a sister restaurant of Telluride’s Cosmopolitan, it changed to Cosmos in 2010 and in 2013, Eolus. The former owner stepped down, graciously giving James and Chris the opportunity to own the business. The changing of the guard was linear and fluid. Chris had been working as a chef since the restaurant opened in Durango; James stepped in as manager not long after. Basically, since day one, the two men had a foot in the door. “I put blood, sweat, and tears into the restaurant as equity and then had the opportunity to purchase the business six years ago,” James said.
However, blood, sweat, and tears weren’t all that was put into Eolus, nor all that was received. Every day there are a few more scrapes, bumps, burns, bruises and, sometimes, an unexpected and untimely appearance from Mother Nature that affords an opportunity to shine. About two years ago, lightning struck outside Durango causing a massive downtown power outage that endured for nearly five hours. Not only did this natural phenomenon arrive amidst a busy dinner rush, it arrived just as a wedding party arrived for their private, rooftop event. “We couldn’t process payments or wash dishes,” James explained. “The cooling hoods in the kitchen weren’t working either because everything is electronic; but because the wedding party pre ordered, the guys in the kitchen kept cooking their order in sweltering heat.” Recollecting the overly hot kitchen, Chris said, “At one point, I’d set my phone down and it turned off because it was so hot.” But, because it was summer and early enough that the sun was still up, the wedding party—on the rooftop patio—had no idea that there was no power. To light their way, employees put candles on the stairs. But for the guests, other than there not being any music, there was no way they would have, or could have, known what was happening below.
In that moment of potential chaos and disaster, James and Chris perfectly demonstrated the commitment they have to Eolus and to providing superlative hospitality. If they have the will—which they do—there is always a way. It’s not necessarily perfectionism for which James and Chris strive. It is knowing that there is always an answer for everything and constantly striving to be better. At the end of the day, Chris likes to look at things a little differently. “The boss is the guest in the seat because, if the food isn’t cooked correctly, if they’re unhappy with it, then we’re going to hear it, and if they don’t choose to come back here that could be the point where I don’t have a job for anyone,” Chris said. No matter a day’s success, this pair is always improving upon what is already in place and what can be done to become better. One of their greatest assets lies in their desire to ensure that everyone is content and comfortable and enjoying themselves—employees included. It’s all about balance and holding a perfect balance at that. This is Durango. This town is eclectic.
“We appeal to a wide crowd here in Durango,” Chris continued. “We have the college community, the old school ranchers, all the people who have moved here over the past number of years because it’s an amazing place. We have a little bit for everybody, and it reflects in the menu; it has a great Durango spin. You can come in and have a burger, or you can have sushi or the seafood stew with saffron capellini, or surf and turf; I feel like we’re multifaceted in that realm. You can have different experiences when you come in here.”
Eolus. Named after Eolus Peak—located in the Needle Mountains range of the Chicago Basin—it seemed like a perfect fit for the restaurant and its proprietors who have stood tall and proud over the years. “For me personally, I’m living the dream,” professed James. “This place is beautiful. We have an outdoor dining area; we have the full nine yards. We can do private parties up there; we have the ability to do pretty much whatever we want to. This is a pretty awesome venue, and it’s right downtown. I wouldn’t change anything.” So, if you’re ever in Durango and lightening happens to strike, knocking out the town’s power, head over to Eolus. You’re guaranteed an incredible meal from a team that can truly make magic happen.
“It’s welcoming. It’s about the whole picture — awesome food, great drinks, staff that cares about you enjoying yourself but being professional about it.” - James Allred
Story written by: Jennaye Derge Photos Provided by: Eolus