Nate Gatrel earned his culinary degree at age 20 from one of the top three culinary schools in the nation: Kendall College. In 2007, when the Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek recruited him as a chef, he moved from Chicago to Beaver Creek. Throughout the years, he built a strong resume by working in some of the Vail Valley’s finest restaurants. But last year, he spent 120 days in Eagle County Detention Facility.
During his sentence, he volunteered for a six-week intensive program, called A Better Way. The restorative justice program helps participants take responsibility for the harm they have caused.
Gatrel’s alcohol abuse resulted in two DUIs in six months, and the resulting 120-day sentence.
“I decided I’d do anything to change my life around,” he says, referring to his participation three times a week for six weeks in A Better Way. “I’m trying to be a positive influence on the community rather than a negative influence.”
He’s doing that by cultivating an open, trustworthy environment as a chef at the Rittenhouse in Gypsum.
“We don’t like to yell around here,” Gatrel says. “I’ve worked for my share of chefs who’ve yelled and thrown plates. People don’t react well to that situation. I never like to yell; I like a more calm demeanor. I show them I understand where they’re coming from. Everybody is here as a human, and everybody deserves to be treated well.”
A means to right wrongs
Gatrel adopted his approach by watching Deb Baldwin, who implemented A Better Way in the Eagle County Detention Facility in 2009. The program is supported by Survive!, a local nonprofit, which also guides kids and teens through challenges.
A Better Way has reduced recidivism rates to just 10 percent, compared to the national average of 67 percent, by helping people who are incarcerated form healthier lifestyle habits.
To build upon its success, Survive! opened the Rittenhouse in 2014. The restaurant provides a transitional work and living environment for people dedicated to changing their lives, as well as space for 12-step meetings, Survive! classes, life coaching, youth gatherings and community events. It also provides funding for Survive!
A restaurant full of community
Sipping on a latte near the fireplace in the rustic inn or enjoying river views while eating a Portobello mushroom burger topped with roasted bell peppers, onions, avocado and bean sprouts is just one of the many benefits of the Rittenhouse. It also allows people in the community to work with former inmates and in doing so, break down barriers.
Devin Effinger personally understands stigmas. When his family uprooted him from Denver to move to Atlanta, he started to experiment with alcohol and marijuana. What began as a way to fit in to a new culture ultimately led Effinger to a life of crime to support his drug and alcohol addiction. He hit his bottom as an intravenous drug user.
Today, Effinger is the clean-cut, energetic, always-ready-to-drop-what-he’s-doing-to-help assistant director of Rittenhouse. No one would guess the lows Effinger reached by the time he turned to his dad, who lived in Avon, for help. He met Baldwin after he’d been sober for about a year and began volunteering in A Better Way. He now lives at the Rittenhouse as a mentor.
“Part of the problem we face is this stigma, but a lot of people have lived a life of confusion based on how they grew up,” Effinger says. “There’s this expectation that people who get out of jail should do the right thing, but very few people will give them the chance to prove themselves.”
The Rittenhouse provides that chance. The historical inn, built in the 1800s, wraps guests, employees and residents within its cozy atmosphere. The down-to-earth environment supports Gatrel, and more recently incarcerated people, in deepening the personal growth they began through A Better Way — and in giving back to the community.
“The Rittenhouse is an experience in and of itself,” Effinger says. “We do everything as if you were to come to our house for dinner. We really put our heart into the food we deliver.”