2022 Navigator: Hannah Hopkins grew family of restaurants during troubled times

The Navigator Awards are presented annually by Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Steamboat Springs Chamber to businesses and community leaders for their outstanding contributions to the Steamboat community.

On the second story of the Yampa Valley Kitchen, Hannah Hopkins reflected on her career as the co-owner of three eateries that have become beloved by the Steamboat Springs community.

The top floor of the restaurant being renovated to expand seating seems to capture a glimpse of what Hopkins has accomplished in her time in Steamboat: steady growth and success against all odds.

For her ability to rise up and bring others with her, Hopkins has been awarded the 2022 Navigator Business Leader of the Year Award.

Hopkins moved to Steamboat 12 years ago from New York to accept the chef’s position at Mambo. Shortly after, she formed a partnership with Jeremy MacGray and become an operating partner of the restaurant. Soon thereafter, their brand grew.

In 2017, Hopkins helped open Bésame, an upscale experience that offers Latin fusion and global flavors and quickly earned critical acclaim. In September 2019, Hopkins and Executive Chef Joe Campbell prepared food at the James Beard Foundation in New York City.

In 2020, during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions on indoor dining created a difficult time for the service industry, Hopkins and her team did the unthinkable: They opened a new restaurant.

In July, 2020, Yampa Valley Kitchen opened two blocks north of downtown inside of a farmhouse built in 1918. Featuring locally sourced and organically raised ingredients, the third eatery in Hopkin’s family of restaurants thrived through the troubled time.

“I think that opening a restaurant during the middle of the pandemic was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever done in my life,” Hopkins said. “One of the things I really believe is that we are literally all in this together, and I could not do it without my dishwasher. I couldn’t do it without my server, my host or my managers — oh my gosh, my managers who never gave up. There’s a lot of persistence and an amazing business partner who supported us through the entire pandemic.”

Just over two years later, Yampa Valley Kitchen is going strong. Known as a breakfast and lunch hotspot, Hopkins plans to soon expand the hours at Yampa Valley Kitchen to offer a full dinner menu.

Hopkins and her team also partnered with the Community Agriculture Alliance to host farm-to-table dinners at Yampa Valley Kitchen during the summer. The dinners offered food sourced from local agriculture producers and functioned as fundraisers for the Community Agriculture Alliance. Local farmers and ranchers presented and gave insight to the ingredients, and many patrons enjoyed the experience.

Hopkins admits there are more trials on the horizon including maintaining a full staff and keeping up with inflation. She said her team has done a good job retaining staff, and the secret ingredient has been compassion.

“I believe that it’s the relationships that you create with your staff and getting to know each individual person, and what makes them tick, and caring for their personal needs,” Hopkins said. “They’re loyal, but I’m loyal to them as well. I feel like my job is to give them the tools to succeed.”

Hannah Hopkins, Operating Partner at Mambo, Besame and Yampa Valley Kitchen, is the 2022 Navigator Business Leader of the Year.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Hopkins said it’s important to provide avenues for upward mobility in your company, especially to those who start at the bottom rung.

“I would not be here without the opportunities that were given to me, and I really thrive off of being able to pay that forward and give the people that work with me opportunities to grow as well,” Hopkins said.

Empathy is what Hopkins identifies as the cornerstone of her management style, saying that she equally appreciates her cooks and service staff.

“We’re all in this together,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins feels she has developed strong ties to the Steamboat community, saying she has now been in town long enough to see many people come and go, while others have grown up right before her eyes.

“I feel like I’m embedded in this community,” Hopkins said. “I hope that I’m a friendly face that everybody can say hi to.”

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