Aspen Golf Club restaurant on hold

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The Aspen City Council finds itself in a Catch 22 situation when it comes to the golf course restaurant.

If the council doesn’t reduce the rent by $10,000, the current operator, Shlomo Ben-Hamoo, plans to sign his lease over to Jamie Ramey and Rich Burbidge, the current managers of the restaurant.

Shlomo rents the space from the city for $20,000 a year, but doesn’t keep the restaurant open during crucial times for golfers ” specifically early mornings, and late afternoon and evenings. That’s because it’s not economically viable to open early and stay open late, Shlomo told the council Monday.

Shlomo has a year left on his lease and a five-year option to renew, but said he wants to turn the operation over to Ramey and Burbidge, who he has mentored for the past two years.

Steve Aitken, director of the city’s golf department, has proposed that the city sign a five-year lease with Ramey and Burbidge so they can open their own business under the name Red Mountain Grille. It’s proposed that they would pay half of what Shlomo paid in rent.

The reduced rent will enable the new operators to extend the hours of operation, which has been a bone of contention with golfers in recent years who have complained that Shlomo’s on the Green wasn’t open often enough.

“If people can’t get something to drink at 3 p.m. after they are done, it’s not a good thing,” Helene Slansky, president of the ladies golf club, told the City Council on Monday. “If they can’t get something in the morning, that’s not a good thing.”

Slansky said she supports extended hours and told the council that not all users of the golf course are satisfied with the quality of service or the food offered in recent seasons.

Aitken’s proposal was set to be approved by the City Council on Monday, but elected officials questioned the appropriateness of subsidizing the operation.

Council members decided to continue the matter and directed city management to negotiate a different subsidy.

City Councilman Steve Skadron asked why the city wouldn’t put the lease out for bid so other interested restaurateurs might have the opportunity to set up shop at the golf course.

City Attorney John Worcester said that wasn’t possible because Shlomo has control of the lease.

“They can tie up the lease for six years,” he said.

Some council members didn’t understand why city taxpayers should subsidize the rent to make the restaurant profitable.

“It’s hard for me to grasp why that is,” said Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss. “I have a hard time justifying a 50 percent decrease in the rent.”

Golf course restaurants around Colorado struggle with making a profit and face the same issues of high operational expenses while trying to meet the needs of golfers, Aitken said. Golf course restaurants are considered an amenity to the overall operation, Aitken added.

“The restaurant has been one of our biggest challenges out there,” he told the council. “With this lease, we’ve got the hours that match the golf shop and tennis operation.”

If the lease is approved by the council, Red Mountain Grille will open at 7 a.m. instead of 10:30 a.m., and will remain open later into the evening. That means breakfast for early morning golfers and additional bar service.

Cart service on the golf course is expected to improve as well, with proposed hours of operation to be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with additional service as needed.

Shlomo said when he first opened the restaurant in 2004, it was open throughout the day and he ended up losing money.

“It was a totally losing situation because of the overhead and the dollars from being open,” he said. “From the beginning, it was more of a service to golfers.”

He pared down the hours to keep the food prices low, Shlomo said. Prices average at about $10 for lunch.

Shlomo added that as a member of the Maroon Creek Club, he has to pay $1,000 a year toward the restaurant, whether he eats there or not.

“It doesn’t work anywhere,” he said of golf course restaurants.

In years past, Aitken said there’s been hardly any interest from restaurateurs to open up shop at the golf course, especially operating it year-round.

Ramey has been overseeing the restaurant operations all winter, which has been open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday until recently when it closed for the season. The winter operations serve nordic skiers, as the golf course is home to the Aspen Cross Country Center.

If approved by the council, the new lease would require that Red Mountain Grille provide breakfast, lunch and afternoon restaurant operations during the golf season from May through October. Additionally, Ramey and Burbidge would provide winter service from mid-November to mid-March.