The Nugget Mountain Bar is under new ownership after Steve and Jamie Valverde purchased it earlier this month from previous owner Kevin Wright.
The Nugget was opened in 2018 by Wright and a college friend, Joe Valerio, after gutting an old vacation rental cabin near Purgatory Resort and turning it into a ski bar.
“It has been a beautiful window of my life owning the Nugget and the community was very supportive in my time as the primary owner,” Wright said. “It was a great experience for me personally and as a business person.”
Over the last few years, the bar has become a staple of the ski community welcoming locals and tourists, alike. However, the bar has recently struggled with a permitting dispute with La Plata County involving the outside deck and the Backcountry Gourmet food truck. The dispute took a toll on Wright.
“The way the Planning Department and the land-use department of La Plata County treated me was very unfair,” he said. “It just kind of took the joy out of running a business in the county.”
But he wanted to leave the bar in good hands.
Steve Valverde said he had previous discussions with Wright about taking over the bar, perhaps when the time was right.
“I had mentioned to Kevin years ago that if he was ever interested and was just done, I would hope he’d reach out to me,” Valverde said.
Wright is content knowing the Valverdes are taking over the Nugget. He wanted to make sure he was selling to locals and people who are raising a family in Durango.
“I wanted someone who would be able to massage the Nugget moving forward in the way that it needs to in order to achieve its potential long term. And Steve and Jamie, I knew would be fantastic and are a perfect fit for the Nugget’s future,” Wright said.
Valverde said he knew he wanted to be a part of the Nugget from the moment he entered the bar. He said it reminded him of spending time in the mountains near Salida growing up. It had an old-style ski bar feeling that he became infatuated with.
In the first few weeks as a co-owner, he’s been hard at work trying to reopen the bar’s outdoor deck, which was closed as a result of disputes with the county over permits.
“Everything falls under the scope of the liquor licensing commission, which then needs an approval of land use, and the department of building. So there’s a lot of gears that have to fit together,” Valverde said.
Much of this will depend on how soon he can get on the docket for a county commissioners meeting and obtain engineering plans.
He hopes to have the outdoor deck open in the next couple of weeks. Valverde said he does not want to change the bar. He said the only change he would make is the parking situation to avoid cars from lining up along U.S. Highway 550.
When asked about the addition of more food options at the Nugget, Valverde said he values the relationship built with Backcountry Gourmet and there is no plan to add more food trucks.
While the Valverdes will handle daily operations, Wright still owns a 5% stake in the bar but will stay on as a silent partner. Valverde said this is valuable because if he has questions, he knows Wright is always there to help.
Wright said he was grateful for the experience and that it is difficult to start a business in the northern part of the county, especially when the cabin did not have a bar-style infrastructure.
Valverde is most excited about having ownership in a community he loves.
“I want people to know that our aim and our goal is to not change the spirit of what it is,” he said. “Our goal is to nurture what it already has going on.”