The Sun Valley Culinary Institute has set its sights on a can’t-miss spot in downtown Ketchum—the vacant Cornerstone restaurant building on Main Street.
Harry Griffith, who is leading the effort to create the institute, said in an interview last week that his team is working to finish a lease agreement with the owners of the building at 211 N. Main St., next to the Sawtooth Club.
The plan is to remodel the space this summer and open it for events by fall. The institute intends to launch the first class of students in fall 2020.
In preparation for the rollout this fall, Griffith and his partners are launching a fundraising effort this summer. Their first fundraiser will be July 16. Griffith is working with institute Executive Director Paul Hineman, Dean Chris Koetke and consultant Kevin Hall, and several other organizations in the Wood River Valley.
“We want to make this the culinary arts hub for our community,” Griffith said. “We’ve found that there’s a number of people in the community who got really excited. People have really stepped up and said, ‘How can we help?’ To me, this a community-shaped effort.”
The building has been vacant since The Cornerstone restaurant closed in 2017. Griffith and Hineman said they plan to gut the existing building and install new equipment. Hineman said he believes students will be excited about learning their craft in a contemporary kitchen housed in a historic building.
“They want to feel like they’re in a mountain town,” Hineman said. “It’s been vacant. Part of the strategy is to bring it back to life.”
Their aim is to have an open space for seating, dining and events in the front of the building, which focuses on a large, glass-enclosed and upgraded kitchen in the rear. That would offer views of the students at work.
In the basement, they are going to remodel a former wine storage space and turn it into a baking center.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1884, and is called the Greenhow and Rumsey Store Building, though locals may know it as the Golden Rule building, the name of a grocery store it once housed.
According to the register, the building may have been used as the offices for the Ketchum Keystone, the first newspaper in town. It was first used as a general merchandise store in 1887. William Greenhow, who set up Ketchum’s first post office, was running the store with a partner by 1890.
“The Greenhow and Rumsey Store Building retains in its original walls examples of very early local brick technology,” the register states. “The building is one of three brick buildings extant from this period of construction in Ketchum. It is one of very few Ketchum buildings that retain a physical appearance associated with Ketchum’s past.”
Because of its historic status, the building can’t be drastically altered. For example, Griffith said, they can’t install new windows on the exterior. Thus, the remodel project is focused more on instilling new life in the existing space. They have hired architect Michael Doty to design the project.
“We’re tearing down more than we’re putting up,” Griffith said of the existing interior fixtures. “We’re going to open it up.”
The institute’s proposed location has shifted since Griffith first announced the plan last fall. He originally considered the building that formerly housed Globus restaurant on Washington Avenue, but that fell through.
The next plan was to temporarily house the institute in the Elkhorn Springs restaurant for a few years, and then be an anchor tenant in developer Jack Bariteau’s planned mixed-use project on First Avenue and Fourth Street. Griffith said he didn’t want to wait for that project to be constructed.
Griffith said his group has been busy developing the curriculum for the courses, including skill assessment tests, student plans and daily lessons. They are working with College of Southern Idaho to apply to have the institute become a federally certified apprenticeship program.
If the plans come together, the students will be able to take their courses at the institute while completing courses online through CSI, and apply those to an occupational science degree, Griffith said.
The building can host events with 50 to 80 people, and the ones that launch this fall will tie into the Trailing of the Sheep festival in October. The institute will also pursue partnerships with the Sun Valley Resort and some of the business conferences that come to the Wood River Valley. Corporate partners like Chobani, Nestlé and the Hershey Co. will also be key allies, and the institute wants to honor and support Idaho-based agricultural producers.
Griffith said the programs aren’t just going to be for professional students. The institute will have opportunities for cooking enthusiasts to learn new skills, techniques and recipes, and for chefs from local restaurants to step in and teach classes.
He said the institute intends to work with local nonprofits like The Hunger Coalition, the Local Food Alliance, the Senior Connection and others.
“Making this part of the community fabric is also really important,” Griffith said.
The institute tested out some of its key concepts with an event at the Elkhorn Inn on June 9. Koetke hosted a Junior Chef program with the head chefs from Chobani and Hershey, and helped children ages 11-14 learn how to cook and understand the importance of locally sourced ingredients.
The program was the first taste of many exciting things to come, Griffith said.
“We’re testing some of the concepts,” he said. “We’re really excited about this.”