Aspen’s venerable Steak Pit, Double Dog set to close
ASPEN – After a 50-year run in Aspen, the Steak Pit is closing, and its counterpart, the Double Dog Pub, which has been a popular watering hole for locals for the past four years, also will see its doors close at the end of this week.
Owners Bob and Cindy Glowacki cited a difficult business climate in Aspen as the reason for closing.
“I want to thank everyone who [has] supported us,” said Cindy Glowacki, whose sadness over the end of a long-held tradition in Aspen has been evident for days.
Over the past two weeks, the Glowackis had been negotiating the terms and price of their lease with the building’s landlords, local attorneys Andy Hecht and Ron Garfield.
And while it appeared they were willing to significantly reduce the rent for at least a couple of years, it wouldn’t have been enough to keep the businesses afloat.
“They would have lowered it to what I asked for, but just lowering the rent wouldn’t have made it successful,” Bob Glowacki said, adding he and Cindy were barely paying themselves since they bought the Steak Pit business from Peter and Barbara Guy in 2002. “We got into a hole because it’s so expensive to do business here.”
The Glowackis employ about 35 people, with some of them longtime employees. They will all be looking for new jobs once the restaurant and pub close, which is scheduled for April 11 – or until the food runs out.
“I think it’s sad,” said Michael Wechsler, who started working at the Steak Pit in 1981 as a dishwasher and has been waiting tables for decades. “I feel bad for the town because a 50-year tradition is down the drain.
“Those guys [landlords] just don’t get it,” he added. “These local places are what makes a town. It’s another symptom of what’s wrong with Aspen.”
The Glowackis don’t entirely blame their landlords for the tough economic climate; they understand that they are businessmen trying to recoup their investment. The underlying problem, Bob Glowacki said, is that the prices for downtown buildings are so inflated that it makes it nearly impossible to pay the rent, especially on a 6,000-square-foot space.
“The problem is that with mom-and-pop local businesses, it all starts with the property values,” he said.
It’s not that either place wasn’t successful. The Glowackis were able to run a break-even business for a few years and even eked out a profit a couple years at the Steak Pit. But food sales at the Double Dog have increased 50 percent since it opened in 2006, Glowacki said.
It’s only been in the last couple of years that the Steak Pit has lost money, due to the recession and no break on the rent. In 2008 and 2009, business dropped 17 percent. But it appeared to be on the rebound.
“March was the first month we were up in a year and a half,” Glowacki said, adding he hasn’t raised food prices in two years and has never raised liquor prices.
Glowacki said last year was the only time there hasn’t been a rent increase in the nine years they’ve run the restaurant.
The other problem with rents in most buildings in the commercial core is that they are triple net leases, meaning the costs of maintaining the property, as well as the taxes and insurance, are passed onto the tenant.
Glowacki said the triple net charges accounted for nearly half of his overall rent. He added that the ideal average fixed occupancy rate for restaurants should be between 6 and 8 percent; his was 19 percent last year.
Glowacki said the Steak Pit has never been that successful in its current location at the corner of Monarch Street and Hopkins Avenue – even when the Guys owned it.
The Steak Pit saw more success in its first two locations, beneath City Market and underneath what is now Bad Billy’s on Cooper Avenue. The Steak Pit has been in its current location for the past 17 years.
In recent years, the Steak Pit has been less of a draw for people looking for a different style of cuisine.
“It’s not as fancy and is more old school,” Glowacki said.
The Steak Pit’s closing also marks the last salad bar in town.
Glowacki said he and Cindy plan to take some time off and hope to start anew in the future.
“Down the road, we hope to open a Double Dog,” he said, adding it will likely be midvalley or farther west.
All of the photos of patrons’ canines and felines that adorn the walls and stairway of the Double Dog will be kept in a safe place and hung in a new venue in the future, Glowacki said.
Bob Robinson, a bartender at the Double Dog, said on behalf of the staff at the pub, they appreciate locals’ patronage.
“We’ve had great people in here, and thanks for the business, your generosity and the good times,” he said.
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