From Ski Bum to Real Estate Entrepreneur

From Ski Bum to Real Estate Entrepreneur

Mike Mercatoris’ story starts out with a similar ring. He came to Snowmass Village in 1973, thinking it would be a pit stop for the rest of his life. “When I moved out here, I did the come-to-be-a-ski-bum thing. I didn’t really have a lot of direction,” he said. Now a successful restaurateur, and commercial broker with Slifer Smith & Frampton Roaring Fork Valley, he is eager to help others make the valley their home base for bringing their entrepreneurial dreams to life. “The reality is our valley goes back to the Wild West,” he said of the local entrepreneurial spirit. “These are people who came out on a whim and said I’m gonna make it work.”

Entrepreneurial Landlords

Mercatoris includes landlords in the entrepreneurial crowd, but as he built and grew Zheng Asian Bistro, GRIND and the Riviera Supper Club, he noticed that building owners and building tenants more often than not felt like opponents instead of partners. “The reality is they are both after the same thing,” he said. “The landlords’ building investment is only worth what a tenant will pay for it, and the tenant needs to be able to make money in order to pay the rent, but somewhere along the lines it became landlord versus tenant, tenant versus landlord.” As a young businessman trying to find good locations for his restaurants, Mercatoris said it was clear to him that his own success would contribute to his landlord’s success, but that it didn’t feel like they were on the same team. “It was frustrating because we are partners. I think if we can get back to the roots of how this works we can bridge this gap,” he said.

Navigating Leases

As he transitioned from signing leases for his own businesses to helping others find the right commercial space for their own companies, he also found that first-hand experience was helpful for his clients. For the most part, the lawyers and realtors he worked with early in his career had never needed to negotiate a lease for themselves, and so weren’t able to represent the tenant as well. “Not very many of them have signed their own lease or really understood what I was going through,” he said. Unlike buying real estate, Mercatoris says leases are highly customizable, which can be overwhelming for new business owners who aren’t familiar with navigating the negotiation process. “There is no standard contract. They kind of all have the same structure but they are all different and there are so many things that can get you in trouble as a tenant and landlord.”

The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs in Real Estate

Mercatoris sees a transition in the valley that will open doors for new entrepreneurs to get their feet on the ground and become established assets in their communities, just like the generation of entrepreneurs before them.
“We do have this generation of building owners that are retiring. They are going to be selling their buildings, they are going to be looking for the next generation,” he said. “I’m personally pretty excited to see what happens. I think we can do a lot of good if we could have an understanding between what I call landlord entrepreneurs  and tenant entrepreneurs.”

Navigating Covid-19 as an Entrepreneur

Mercatoris is even excited to help new businesses navigate a world full of social distancing requirements and public health regulations affecting the way customers interact with retail and dining. He said the lengthened stay of the valley’s guests has created a community that wasn’t present pre-COVID, bringing a whole new batch of investors and customers to the area.
“It makes a real difference when people are here for six months instead of six days,” he said. And building community is a skill Mercatoris has down by now, after 25 years of working locally to build community and cross the landlord-tenant divide in commercial real estate. “If you go out to eat today there is a good chance I’ve worked with that restaurant owner,” he said.

Author: Jillian

Jillian Livingston, influencer, connector, mom of three teen boys, and the Founder of Aspen Real Life and Aspen Business Connect, is an adventure seeker and freelance travel writer and has contributed to luxury travel sites such as; Inspirato, Quintess, Bespoke Concierge Magazine and Destinations Travel Magazine. She was also the Roaring Fork Examiner. With a mission to experience adventures for both she and her three boys, and to connect us all closer together, Jillian and contributing writers share daily encounters and experiences found in the bars, trails and chair lifts of Aspen and the surrounding Roaring Fork Valley. Follow Jillian's blog at, @aspenreallife on social media, and to get more up close and personal with Jillian, follow her inspirational life travel stories at @jilliansreaallife on instagram.

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