OURAY, Sept. 4, 7:27 a.m. – The MacCraiger family is just starting their fourth year as owners of the Silver Nugget Restaurant and Columbus Hotel at 520 Main Street in Ouray. It’s a family business, with everybody pitching in to help a little – or a lot – here and there.
“I first learned to cook in the Boy Scouts, over an open fire with raw ingredients, often in the Northern California rain,” said Craig MacCraiger, a California native.
With careers in international business and magazine and newsletter publishing, MacCraiger never expected to find himself cooking in a restaurant. “I’m the kind of person that when I go to the dentist, I think about becoming a dentist, or when I go to the doctor, I think about becoming a doctor. But owning a hotel and restaurant never once crossed my mind,” he said.
For Sarah MacCraiger, the idea caught her off guard as well. “I’m not going to wait tables! I’m not going to tend bar!” she exclaimed when her husband broke the news that he’d found a lovely little town in Colorado with a hotel and restaurant for sale. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what she often finds herself doing four years after making the arduous move from England to Colorado.
Born in the desert near Palm Springs, Craig grew up in California, spending some of his summers on the family ranch in the “unfashionable central regions” of Montana. “I rode a tractor, not a horse,” MacCraiger laughed.
During college in San Luis Obispo, MacCraiger spent an undergraduate year abroad in England. He often returned to visit, and during one of those visits he met Sarah. A dedicated educator, she taught children ages 3 to 5 in the London public school system, and when she moved to Colorado, took over as Director of Early Childhood Education for the Telluride School District for a short time.
“I still have all my teaching things downstairs,” said Sarah, including a special coat she would put on at story time: “It’s got these little bells sewn all over the inside. It’s like you cast a magic spell when you put it on.”
After four years of long distance courtship, the two decided over dinner one night to get married and start a family. A month later Craig got the call that the family was coming sooner than later, so he left his business behind and moved to England. The couple lived in Wimbledon, so close to the tennis courts that “we could hear the players shout,” Craig said.
Always drawn to the abundant waters in England – “When you’re born in the desert you tend to really like water,” he said – he became involved in urban canoeing on a nearby river, the Wandele. As access officer for the river, he arranged for public access to the water in a country where all the land is privately controlled. He organized river cleanups and took hundreds of people down the river, teaching them about wildlife along the way. His efforts won him the Queen Mother’s Award for Service to Community.
During his stint as an editor and writer while in England, he was also the primary caregiver for the couple’s two sons, Charlie, now 13, and Will, now 12. He became an active and popular scout leader, taking dozens of boys on numerous forays, including a backpacking trip on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Craig said that one of the other leaders even complained that he was doing too much with the boys. “You were awesome! Nobody wanted you to move away,” Charlie told his father during the interview for this article.
Nevertheless, that’s what eventually happened. After 11 years in England, Craig convinced his wife to return with him to the U.S. During a reconnaissance trip with his son Will, Craig stumbled upon Ouray.
“When Sarah and I first married, I had a really vivid dream that I was hanging out in a bar,” he recalled. “I went outside to get some fresh air and found myself in this impossible landscape with cliffs rising around me and trees all over the cliffs. When I got out of the car in Ouray, I told Will, ‘I’ve dreamed about this place.’”
Craig and his son spent a day in Ouray and toured the school, where they met every single teacher and every single class. As they went about town, people asked, “Oh, aren’t you the people who are moving here?”
“I’d have been a fool to keep looking for a place more wonderful than this,” Craig said.
The family packed their life into a shipping container and headed for Colorado with their two dogs. They spent the first couple of weeks camping in a tent at the 4-J Campground, a memory none of the MacCraigers seemed to relish. They moved into the Silver Nugget building as soon as they could, and there they are today.
“The thing I like about the Silver Nugget is that it’s an institution in Ouray,” Craig said. Numerous older residents have told him their first job was in the kitchen there, peeling potatoes or washing dishes.
Even today, the Silver Nugget is a friendly place for Ouray youth. Kids gather at the Silver Nugget for a soda and a session on Will and Charlie’s trampoline, or they stop by to use the phone or to sing along with the house musicians. “We know all the kids through our sons,” said Sarah.
With two charming boys, a Scout leader, a former teacher, and a family full of lovely British accents, the Silver Nugget is a friendly place indeed, not just for kids, but for weary travelers and locals as well.