nourishing our neighbors
by Parker LaDue
When the chips are down, someone always seems to rise to the occasion. This is the story of a passionate New York Italian transplant who runs two of the most successful restaurants in Crested Butte and decided to feed the people when their jobs were lost and they had no place to go.
roots run deep
Growing up in upstate New York, Kyleena Falzone, affectionately known as ‘Ky’ in the community, comes from an Italian family. Restaurants have always been a part of her life. “Both of my Italian grandfathers, Joseph Falzone and Sam Mancuso, were in the biz. One grandfather had an Italian butcher shop and farmers market. They put me in an apron when I was five, and I used to help bag candy and work the register,” she explains.
Ky still has extended family in Italy, and when she turned nineteen, she was able to go visit them. It was this trip that sparked her interest in the science of pizza. “I flew over to Rome, pedal biked the 1,200 miles from Rome to Sicily, and my family picked me up from a bus station. We had never met, they spoke no English, and just had one photo of me to recognize who they were picking up. They knew the ‘American cousin’ was coming in on a bike and thought I was crazy, because girls didn’t bike along a coast like that over there.”
Kyleena’s family owned a large pizza restaurant there. The second she laid eyes on the hustle and bustle, seeing all of her Italian cousins truly enjoying serving patrons, she knew it was her calling. “I saw that and said to myself, ‘That’s it. I want to be in the restaurant business’.
At nineteen I knew.” She started working in restaurants dishwashing, serving, and more.
Kyleena got a taste of business ownership firsthand at the young age of 28, when she started the Clarence Center Coffee Company near her hometown in New York. “I wanted to be around my family when I opened my first business, especially since I was so young, I was only 28,” she says. “My dad has always been a big business mentor of mine, so that was really important to me to be around them when I started that.” The Clarence Center Coffee Company is still there with the same manager running it for over 25 years.
the start of something new
How does a determined young woman ready to take on the world end up in the small community of Crested Butte? Kyleena decided to leave the comfort of her coffee shop for something more.
“I got in a camper and drove out to every single ski resort: Vail, Aspen, Telluride. I even went to Leadville, Buena Vista, and Salida. I drove to every town asking myself, ‘Is this where I wanna be?’”
“I had one stop left: Crested Butte. I drove into town, past the school, and I said ‘This is it. I know.’” Kyleena drove down Elk Avenue for the first time, headed all the way up the street, and saw a ‘For Rent’ sign on an old cabin located at 21 Elk Avenue. “I called the number on the sign and the landlord happened to be there,” Kyleena laughs. “I made the decision within two days. It was really quick.” And the Secret Stash Pizzarestaurant was born.
Although the Secret Stash is no longer located at the end of Elk Avenue, the restaurant now boasts a more centralized, not-so-secret location: The Company Store building. Step foot inside and the entire space is adorned with Eastern, bohemian decor. “I’m super close with my father. When I was growing up, he would travel a lot for work. He was an electrical engineer and worked in finance. He would always come home with the most exotic gifts from Hong Kong and other places, and they were so intriguing. That’s what spurred my interest in travel.”
When Kyleena started traveling, she realized how easy it was, which only made her want to do it more. “You don’t need a lot of money to travel,” she explains.
She would stay in hostels, often working for her stay by cleaning the hostel for free room and board. She would also be able to stay longer periods of time by working for small businesses, and was an asset for many of those because of her ability to speak English and communicate well with tourists. “That’s how I decided to decorate the Stash. These little towns in India and Thailand are decorated like this. I just wanted to bring that into my business and combine those two passions.”
finding your calling
Whether it’s being greeted by Triple L at the hostess stand, or Pete behind the bar, you are sure to see a familiar face when you step into the Stash. Kyleena strives to keep a strong relationship with her employees. “I’m only as good as the people that I’m around,” she shares. “I care about not just their work environment, but their home environment. It benefits everyone.” Kyleena offers her employees many benefits including first time home buying seminars, motivational speakers, free meditation and yoga. She shares, “Healthy outlets
in the restaurant industry are so important. Mental health is so important. Any way I can help build up their self esteem and well- being, that’s what I’m going to do.”
She didn’t stop with her employees, though. When Covid-19 struck Crested Butte, Kyleena knew that she had to do something to help all of the members of the community. “Taking care of customers is the most important thing in any business. I have been well taken care of in this community by so many businesses for over 18 years, and it’s time for me to give back and work my butt off. We don’t want these people to leave this place. We don’t want our workforce to have to leave. We don’t want people to struggle,”she says.
“My drive is my passion for not only nourishing mind and soul, but also the body.” Kyleena shares. This sparked the idea to offer a free weekly farmer’s market for members of the community who were now out of work or struggling to make ends meet or without the incoming money to get fresh, healthy foods that typically cost more. Along with the free market, she also offers do-it-yourself pizza kits and taco kits in conjunction with Bonez, her taco and tequila bar located on Elk Avenue. All of this is free of charge for those in need.
She wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of some very generous donors, over 250 of them so far. “I have strong, eighteen-year relationships with these people. They love this community and want to give back. I am going to make sure that every single penny goes back to those people in need. If there is any food left over, it immediately goes to the food pantry and Mountain Roots to be packaged for those in need. There are so many levels of giving, it’s great.” All of the donor money is being spent completely locally, through Mountain Earth and various farms in Paonia. Any remaining funds she donates to local businesses each week.
Although Kyleena has been working every single day throughout the pandemic, she still manages to find time for her family, including
her husband Eric, son Harken, and daughter Willa. “I now have an assistant which has helped so much. She’s been incredible. Because of that, I am able to have family dinners each week. But, when I’m at work, I’m at work. I want to be here. I think leading by example is very important.”
Kyleena is a very attentive, hands on operator. It is routine to see her tossing house made pizza dough or being a hostess at the entrance. She is always present, greeting customers and keeping close tabs on the operation. She doesn’t miss a beat.
Kyleena has been a shining example of goodness and perseverance amidst adversity. She leads and serves at the same time, with a smile and a giving heart, and she promotes not only her businesses but all of the neighboring restaurants and shops.
It’s rare to find your purpose in life so easily, but somehow Kyleena has managed to do just that. She says with a smile, “A very smart business man once told me, ‘do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.’”