Since taking ownership of the restaurant, Brett Etzler has added new beers on tap from the Palisade Brewing Company such as Paw Print Porter and the popular Dirty Hippie.

Photo by Brian Smith

Since taking ownership of the restaurant, Brett Etzler has added new beers on tap from the Palisade Brewing Company such as Paw Print Porter and the popular Dirty Hippie.

New Carelli’s owners plan to further enhance restaurant

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Brett Etzler tosses pizza dough as part of cooking preparation. As the new co-owner of Carelli’s Pizzeria & Pasta, Etzler has left the restaurant’s menu largely the same and mans the counter and pizza oven while his fiancée and co-owner, Stephanie Perez, manages the kitchen and wait staff.

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Brett Etzler poses in front of the menu board of Carelli’s Pizzeria & Pasta. Before buying the business in January, Etzler served as the golf professional at Yampa Valley Golf Course for five years. His co-owner and fiancée Stephanie Perez managed the course’s Tin Cup Grill for three years.

The word “slice” had a negative connotation at Brett Etzler’s last job.

When he hears it now, however, it means income.

The former golf professional swung into a new career in January when he bought Carelli’s Pizzeria & Pasta, 465 Yampa Ave., with his fiancée, Stephanie Perez.

Etzler and Perez were previously fixtures at Yampa Valley Golf Course, with Etzler, 40, overseeing the links for five years and Perez, 38, managing the course’s Tin Cup Grill for three.

Perez, who also worked at the Chinese eatery the Galaxy Restaurant for more than 10 years, has wanted to own her own restaurant since she was 18.

“Customer service and dealing with people is kind of my forte,” she said.

Perez said purchasing Carelli’s was mostly “by luck,” following through on a goal she and Etzler already had coupled with a friendship with previous owners Jim Diehl and Jenny Jones, who were ready to sell.

“I used to work at River Ridge (Restaurant) for the McClellans, and I had thought that we would open something like that, kind of an upscale dinner restaurant,” she said, “Luckily, with Carelli’s we have the best of both worlds. We’ve got stuff up front, and then we’re able to do really nice dinners in the back.”

Perez said many customers from the last few months have been friends from the golf course.

“So many of them tell us that they’ve never eaten here before,” she said.

Perez oversees the wait staff and the kitchen.

“I have a cook who comes in at night, but I make all the lasagnas by hand, all the appetizers are made by hand, all the sauces, the alfredo, the red sauce, all that stuff,” she said.

Etzler spends most of his time at the counter and at the oven, handling the restaurant’s Italian offerings like pizzas, stromboli and calzones.

He said the change between the golf course and the restaurant business has been noticeable.

“It’s a little more fast-paced, but it’s still long hours,” he said. “I’ve really taken a great liking to rolling dough, but it’s been a tough transition for sure. I knew nothing about running a restaurant, but Stephanie’s been in the business her whole life.”

Etzler said the first few months of business have been somewhat slow, but he expects it to pick up soon.

“I think it’s good we took over when we did because it gave us an opportunity to learn,” he said. “We’re getting ready to head into the busy season here.”

He added that the staff has reacted positively to the ownership change.

“Jim and Jen left us with a great staff,” he said. “I think Stephanie’s done a great job with the waitresses. We’re right in the mix with them now and working as a team.”

Perez said her fiancé has stepped up both with the food and the management aspect.

“He’s our best pizza guy, he’s really getting it down,” she said. “He’s learned a lot. It’s been a lot of learning on both parts.”

One of the decisions was in how much to adjust the restaurant to their taste. Etzler said they did not want to mess with success too much.

“It was a good opportunity because it was a great place and the food was already incredible,” he said. “We didn’t really have to change anything.”

Etzler added a few new pieces to the décor, such as a wall of snowboards and some golf mementos to express his love for outdoor sports.

The couple’s plan is to enhance the strong points that the restaurant already has in its food and atmosphere, such as trying out new specialty pizzas on random days and offering Reuben sandwiches for St. Patrick’s Day.

Their current project for the business is preparing a beer garden behind the building.

“We want something really nice, like an Italian villa with vines, not your typical beer garden,” Perez said. “We want to get some high-powered heaters back there so it’s not just for the summer.”

Improvements of the sudsy kind have already been made within the restaurant.

The couple added beers from the Palisade Brewing Company to the drink menu. The company distributes brews such as On Belay IPA, Dirty Hippie and Paw Print Porter to establishments in Mesa, Crested Butte and Grand Junction.

Perez said the response to the additions have been very enthusiastic, leading them to plan for more beers on tap.

Perez said representatives of the brewing company will come to Carelli’s in the near future for a Dirty Hippie Day, in which customers can participate in tie-dyeing shirts.

“We don’t have a date yet, we’re hoping to do it once it gets nicer,” she said. “If the beer garden isn’t ready, we’ll do it out on the sidewalk out front. It’ll be for all ages, not just the beer drinkers.”

The rest of the family has pitched in at the restaurant, as well.

Perez’s 18-year-old son, Kyle, handles pizzas, while her 14-year-old son, Cole, will be helping in the kitchen in the summer.

Perez said she hopes her youngest son, Kincaid, 10, and Brett’s sons, Connor, 10 and Tanner, 8, will also be interested in working in the family business.

Etzler said for his sons, seeing their dad in a restaurant instead of on the golf course is different, but they enjoy hanging out at Carelli’s.

“I never have to buy groceries because they’re always eating here,” he joked.

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