Aspen’s bleak breakfast slate

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Neddie Graham serves breakfast to "native Aspenites" Nicole Twohig, JD Redmond, left, and Max Feldman at Poppycock's Cafe in Aspen on Friday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Hot coffee splashes into a mug as eggs sizzle on the stovetop, spatulas clink and the distinct smell of bacon fills the morning air.

While many consider breakfast the most important meal of the day, Aspen’s early morning options are slim, as of late.

In the past few months, the town has bid farewell to a number of breakfast staples, including Over Easy, Peach’s Corner Cafe, Upper Crust and Starbucks. Of note, the popular, 9,000-square-foot Main Street Bakery closed its doors last fall after pouring coffee and flipping pancakes for nearly 30 years.

decline of dining

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of eating and drinking establishments in Pitkin County has steadily declined each year since 2013, dropping from 126 to 118 places. On the contrary, restaurants sales in Colorado have spiked since 2010, jumping from $8 billion in 2010 to a projected $12 billion in 2016, the Department of Revenue states.

While Aspen’s defunct restaurants offered everything from bagels to burgers, the recent loss of breakfast-specific spots is apparent.

In fact, many of the remaining eateries that serve early morning fare are feeling the crunch and experiencing a consequent surge in business.

Poppycock’s manager Eric Wong said traffic at the longstanding cafe has increased notably in the past two weeks.

Wong said his counterparts at Jour Du Fete reported the same and speculated temporary closures of Over Easy and Spring Cafe as the cause.

At Paradise, assistant manager Tamara Cvetanovska shows charts that compare the bakery’s sales year over year at three periods — after each Main Street Bakery, Starbucks and Peach’s closed.

“We have definitely had more business after each of those places closed,” Cvetanovska said, “especially in the morning.”

Cost causing concern

With high costs and low profit margins, operating a restaurant of any type can be challenging, said Carolyn Livingston, communication director for the Colorado Restaurant Association.

On average, restaurants in the U.S. generate a 3 to 6 percent profit margin, according to the National Restaurant Association.

But breakfast and lunch eateries may need to work more in order to sustain a profit, as customer checks tend to be lower, said Colorado restaurant consultant Richard Weil.

Generally speaking, Weil said, what determines the success of any restaurant is its prime cost versus its overhead.

Restaurateurs aim to keep their prime costs — the combined total of food, liquor, labor and paper — to about 60 percent of their total costs, he said.

Aspen’s abnormally high rent demands, however, mean this equation could be difficult to achieve at restaurants that only serve breakfast and lunch, Weil said.

With little exception, Over Easy owner Mladen Todorovic believes the breakfast and lunch only business model is no longer sustainable in Aspen.

“You have to be open for dinner, there’s no way you can operate only on breakfast and lunch anymore,” Todorovic said. “Unless it’s daddy’s money or you’re a trustafarian or (the rent) is a bona fide amazing deal.”

Todorovic is scrambling to find a new home for Over Easy after vacating its former location Oct. 31 at the request of the new building owners, Hillstone Restaurant Group.

The restaurant chain purchased the Seguin building at 304 E. Hopkins Ave. for $6 million on May 10.

While Todorovic doesn’t know yet where he will land, he anticipates Over Easy’s next chapter also will include dinner.

“We will come back, I guarantee you,” Todorovic said. “I fell in love with serving breakfast. It’s a great crowd, a little bit of every kind of person — the families, the drunkards, the old ladies, the construction guys. It’s just incredible.”