The state’s auction of assets at Little Annie’s Eating House on Tuesday morning drew many dozens of curiosity seekers who soaked up the carnival-barker atmosphere — but not many bidders for the hundreds of items on display.
Now the community’s attention turns to how quickly the restaurant can reopen, with the new operators saying they are aiming for Thursday.
The group that owns the 517 E. Hyman Ave. building where Little Annie’s is housed, represented by property manager Lex Tarumianz, bought up everything in sight for the bulk price of $40,000. That bid was submitted before the auction of individual items got underway around 11:15 a.m. Under the rules for the event, the highest amount, either the bulk bid or the total of the individual-item bids, would triumph.
By 12:45 p.m., Grand Junction auctioneer “Buster” Cattles ended the proceeding after it became apparent that the total value of the remaining items for bid would not come close to the bulk bid that was being funded by the building-ownership group, whose managing partner is developer Nikos Hecht.
Annie’s was shuttered Oct. 15 by the state Department of Revenue because of $44,551 owed in sales taxes. Instead of paying the taxes with the goal of reopening, restaurant owner Ed Dingilian, who lives out of state, opted to let the auction proceed and relinquish his hold on the location he was leasing and formerly owned.
Bidders from outside the Aspen area, seeking good deals on restaurant equipment and other items, were repeatedly rebuffed in the auction’s early goings by Tarumianz, who seemed to have no problem one-upping the competition. At one point, after securing the largest pieces of kitchen equipment, Tarumianz even successfully won the bidding for three flags representing famous golf courses for $160. Bidding on the flags had started around $25.
It all turned out to be moot when Cattles called off the auction and the single bulk bid held.
A who’s who of Aspen characters, including former Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and many of the restaurant’s regular customers, stood by in the packed dining room to listen to the colorful and fast-talking auctioneer. Rob Ittner, a Pitkin County commissioner and owner of Rustique Bistro, watched but didn’t jump into the fray. Red Onion restaurant general manager Brad Smith was on hand, as well. Like dozens of others, they was there to witness the spectacle.
“It’s the biggest community event of the season,” Ittner said.
Now the attention turns to reopening the restaurant and putting nearly 40 people back to work, perhaps only through March. The building is slated to be redeveloped in April.
Rohn Fleming, general manager of Little Annie’s, said workers will be busy almost around the clock to try to open for lunch Thursday. Fleming worked with Tarumianz and Hecht to work out an arrangement by which the assets could be secured and the employees could save their winter jobs.
A new company will be created with Fleming as the owner. Hecht will give the entity a break on the first month’s rent. Little Annie’s employees all have the option of coming back to work and running the place.
“I’m going to try my best to reopen on Halloween,” Fleming said. “If I can get all my ducks in a row, that’s my goal.”
For now, the restaurant and bar will be called Little Annie’s, even though Dingilian owns the rights to the name.
“He’s open to that,” Fleming said of Dingilian. “Moving forward, we’re going to be known as Little Annie’s.”
Fleming noted that he and Tarumianz hoped that the bulk bid would be accepted at the beginning of the event “so we wouldn’t have to go through all of this. But that’s the procedure, and it’s fine.”
As it turned out, the state would not allow the liquor bottles to be resold, which was a surprise to Fleming, who said he can reopen with beer sales until more hard alcohol can be purchased.
“I’ve talked to most of the employees, and most of them are coming back, and they are excited,” he added.