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Chez Lena serves up expanded hours to meet community demand

WCCC restaurant fulfills mission with seasonal menu and expanded community catering services

When it comes to the Chez Lena restaurant at Western Colorado Community College, Head Chef Jonathan St. Peter believes the mission of the campus restaurant, and its relationship with the community, upends common notions that the restaurant business is "tough business." He believes the community that supports Chez Lena makes the natural challenges of operating a restaurant rewarding, fun and great learning opportunities for students.

"We focus on solid, recognizable and accessible ingredient combinations that assist us in communicating a clear message at Chez Lena — food doesn't need to be sophisticated to be outstanding.” Our customers deserve and want premier food without the pretension and that is just what Chez Lena provides.

The outstanding food at Chez Lena has resulted in expanded service hours. The restaurant is now open for lunch that begins at 11:30am and ends at 1:30pm. The expanded hours include a five-day-per-week schedule coupled with expanded community catering services. Chez Lena catering services are in high demand and have, so far, included events with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce as well as private parties and a number of local class reunions and holiday parties.

Lena Elliot is among the most eager and consistent patrons of the establishment and her loyalty to the restaurant is partly why the dining room bears her name. A local philanthropist and former CMU Trustee, Lena helped establish the restaurant and frequents Chez Lena often.

"I host many of my personal and business meetings at Chez Lena," said Elliot. "Not only do I know that the quality of food is the best the Grand Valley has to offer, but each meal served, in turn serves students. That direct contribution to students is what makes me passionate about the restaurant."

Additional academic programs at CMU and WCCC make perfect partnerships for Chez Lena's fine dining special events. The viticulture is one such complementary program. Having wine makers on campus is another way that the restaurant can support local farmers and food artisans.

St. Peter notes that it was John Maxwell who believed a communicator is one who takes something complex and makes it simple. At Chez Lena the staff work towards "simple" by reducing pretension and avoiding single use china as well as ornate or elaborate table dressings and restaurant decorum. The focus is on good food instead of restaurant artifice.

“Everyone who works at Chez Lena from the wait staff to the chefs learn that simple is sometimes better, less is sometimes more and quality isn't always defined by traditional tropes and conventions," said St. Peter. "Grilled cheese is common, but super delicious if prepared correctly. Deviled eggs are delicious as long as they're made correctly. At WCCC, we are going back to the basics and we think our growing customer base is happening because we are responding to what they want in food service."

In addition to the viticulture partnership, WCCC works with the CMU Sustainability Council using the composting program to help grow fresh herbs, flowers, and some of the lettuce and greens used at Chez Lena. In addition to partnership with programs at WCCC and CMU, Chez Lena enjoys relationships with community food suppliers.

"Rancho Molina, Roan Creek Ranch, Green Junction, Blaine's Tomatoes and Rooted Gypsy are examples of local producers who support Chez Lena with healthy food," said WCCC Vice President Brigitte Sündermann. "Building relationships with businesses is a huge part of what we do at WCCC and these partnerships take place in every program we offer including Culinary Arts."

For more information about the evolution and expansion of Chez Lena, customers are encouraged to follow the restaurant's website and social media channels for menu changes, promotions and new, future services.


Written by David Ludlam