Peter and Molly Maxwell live most of their waking hours under the fierce gaze of a growling, full-sized stuffed mountain lion that resides above the fireplace of their restaurant, Maxwells. When you own a busy restaurant, there’s not much time for simple things like breathing; however, the couple seems to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from both the hustle and bustle of feeding the happily hungry and living in a community of active outdoor recreation.
Originally hailing from Wichita, Kansas, Molly attended Kansas University in Lawrence, studying psychology and history, but wound up in Kansas City in the restaurant industry. “I worked waiting tables in college. You either love the business or hate it.” Molly says she was decidedly one of those who loved the pace and the people. “Nothing is ever how it should be because you’re dealing with humans,” she says. She started out waiting tables but soon found herself doing the restaurant’s books and it wasn’t much of a leap to deciding that she might as well buy the place. At her Classic Cup Café, a cosmopolitan American bistro on the plaza, “There was a lot of outdoor dining. In the winter we turned into a smaller restaurant, about a quarter of what we had with the outside dining,” she says of her 15 years there. She met her husband, Peter, there in the early 1990s. “I sold wine to her partner, who was the buyer for their restaurant, and she was my sugar mama because she wrote all the checks for their invoices,” Peter laughs. He was a farm boy, raised in New Madrid, Missouri (pronounced New Ma’drid), famous for three rather large Civil War battles and also home to the New Madrid Fault line, which shook up the Mississippi River so hard in the early 1800s that the river flowed backwards for three full days. The farm boy joined the Marines as a sniper and was sent all over Asia and its southeast for four years. “For a farm boy from Missouri, going into places like Singapore and Hong Kong was a culture shock. That’s where you got your street education because you didn’t see this stuff in America. If you wanted to buy a monkey you could,” Peter recalls. “One of my favorite things about being in the Marine Corps—there were about 10 of us who had our SCUBA certification. You would buy a 20-pound bag of rice, hire locals to take you to remote diving areas and pay them with rice and food. So you’re basically camping out with the local family and they’d take you to unbelievable places... like wrecks from the 17th century.” After Peter got out of the Marine Corps, and during his stint at Missouri State where he studied communications and business, he was working at a fine wine store whose owner required employees to taste a bottle every day. “We tasted everything blind so we had to hone our palates and tasting skills,” Peter says of the very enjoyable learning experience. “After some years of work and school I was asked to interview for a wine rep position for a small distributor in Missouri. It was during that time that I met Molly, who was considered by all the other reps to be Mother Teresa of the Plaza,” he chuckles. Molly retorts in her defense, “Because all the restaurant people hung out together and I didn’t hang!” Instead, she did a lot of charity volunteering with organizations such as Big Sisters ad the Junior League, and through her sorority Pi Beta Phi. Although she and Peter had met previously, they didn’t start dating until 2007, 10 years later when Peter started managing a restaurant named JJ’s, also on the Plaza. “We were friendly competitors,” Peter smiles. Full of restaurants and shops, the Country Club Plaza in the middle of Kansas City, Missouri is a replica of Seville, Spain, and supposedly the first outdoor shopping mall in the United States. It also boasts the most fountains in a city, second only to Rome in its four by six square block area—and that was the backdrop for a fine burgeoning romance of restaurateurs. “It took me four months to get permission from her partners, who were like her brothers, to ask her out on a date!” Peter recalls with amusement. Because the owner of his restaurant had a suite behind the Kansas City Royals’ home base, and Molly loved baseball, he swept her off to the 2007 season’s opening day. “It was a big party, and a big deal,” he recalls. Having the common connection of sports and charity work, their second date was a fundraiser for Downs syndrome children in which Peter’s restaurant catered the event, First Downs for Downs Syndrome, hosted by the offensive line of the Kansas City Chiefs. The deal was clinched and soon afterwards they started talking about goals, family and business. Peter recalls, “My aunt and uncle had lived in Vail since 1961 and I had only skied there, Copper, and Beaver Creek and I had wanted to move out to Colorado. By the fourth date I asked Molly the qualifying questions: 1. Do you want to have children? 2. Do you want to move to the Rockies? She said yes to those two so the marriage proposal came next.” Molly was no stranger to the backcountry since her father had started Backwoods, the outdoor retail stores. “I grew up hiking and camping since I was a year old,” Molly says of her childhood, when the family camped and fished on their ranch in southeastern Kansas. By the summer of 2008, they were looking online for restaurants to buy in the Rockies and Molly explains their choice of settling on the former Idle Spur: “We were looking for a casual fine dining place. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and this was a big enough space to make that happen. You can have millionaires sitting next to blue collars and they can have a PBR or a $100 bottle of wine and everyone feels comfortable.” Despite seeing the place after the roof had caved in, their vision was sound even if it seemed a bit crazy. “It was a disaster!” Peter laughed and added, “But it was a blank slate and your brain starts going, ‘This can be really cool.’” They dove in, bought the Idle Spur (also named Calypso for a short spell) in October 2008 and opened three weeks later—just as Lehman Brothers tanked and the recession hit, but that didn’t deter the Maxwells because, Peter smiles, “Failure wasn’t an option. We had sunk 80 percent of our retirement into the business and,” he grinned even more broadly, “we also knew we wanted to start a family and raise the kids in a small town.” Both the restaurant and their 3 ½ year old son, Quinten are thriving. “We were treading water and living in this great town and we get up and look at the mountains every day and think, I love here, we love it here!” Molly confesses. They’ve taken their love of the outdoors to new levels. Molly admits, “We work a lot but I still have time to run.” Peter cycles, both mountain and road, and of course, he says, “I like to ski, although I stay on the groomers. I love to be outdoors, in the backcountry ... anything outdoors.” They both feel a strong bond and commitment to their new town. “We do charity work here and we’re involved in community,” Peter says and lists some of the services he’s voluntarily involved with like Search and Rescue and Rotary. “We try to get involved with anyone who needs help in the community, paying it forward.” But the reason the couple will stay entrenched in this magnificent place goes beyond the valley’s beauty, and Molly says, “We fell in love with the people. There’s a very Midwestern feel here. A sense of community.” Peter adds, “We’re simple people. We don’t need much. As long as you have your ski pass...” And Molly feels, “It’s about the joy of living here.”