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Feds: No bag-lunch ban at ski eateries

Aspen Times Staff Report

The U.S. Forest Service is cracking down on ski area restaurants that prohibit people with sack lunches from taking a seat.

The Skico was notified by the U.S. Forest Service last month that it should spread the word to businesses that hold leases for on-mountain restaurants that discrimination against “brown baggers” wouldn’t be tolerated.

In a letter to the Skico, Aspen District Ranger Rob Iwamoto noted that some restaurants have banned brown baggers because they use condiments placed in general areas and take up seats that could be used for paying customers. One restaurant at Snowmass even tried to ban use of lockers for storage of sack lunches, he wrote.

However, he also said he didn’t feel the problem with a limited number of brown baggers warrants discrimination.

“While I fully support the concept of on-mountain restaurants realizing a profit, we must not forget the main reason they exist is to provide appropriate support services including food, a place to warm up and restroom facilities to all guests who desire such services,” Iwamoto’s letter said.

The Forest Service has the ability to regulate use of restaurants that are located on public lands. However, restaurants on private property, including the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain, are out of the feds’ jurisdiction.

That’s why the Sundeck can have a private club that charges $50,000 for memberships, but a place like High Alpine at Snowmass cannot ban brown baggers. High Alpine is on national forest land.

In a press release issued Monday, the Aspen Skiing Co. claimed its open-door policy has been applauded by the Forest Service. The problem, the Skico contended, has been with some of the restaurants that lease cafeterias from it.

“All on-mountain cafeterias owned and operated by Aspen Skiing Company allow guests to eat sack lunches at their facilities,” said the Skico in a statement. “However, on-mountain cafeterias leased to area businesses by ASC, have policies forbidding people with sack lunches from using the facilities to eat lunch.”

Leased restaurants at the Skico’s four area mountains include: the Merry-Go-Round at Aspen Highlands; Bumps at Buttermilk; and Cafe Suzanne, Gwynn’s High Alpine, the Ullrhof, and Dudley’s at Snowmass. The Skico will take over operation of Dudley’s next season.

“It has always been our policy to allow guests to bring food into our facilities to eat and we have encouraged the leased restaurants to do the same,” said Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton in the statement.

Just how many leased on-mountain restaurants prohibit sack lunchers is unclear.

Susan McPherson, the owner of Cafe Suzanne at the base of the Elk Camp Lift at Snowmass, said her establishment isn’t one of them. “I have never had a sign in my restaurant saying that sack lunches are not allowed,” she said. But not many folks bring sack lunches to Cafe Suzanne, so it has never been an issue, McPherson added.

“It’s not going to change anything at my restaurant,” she said. However, if a sizable percentage of Cafe Suzanne’s customers began bringing sack lunches, effectively displacing paying customers, “it would ruin me,” she said.

John Drake, who owns the lease on the Ullrhof Restaurant at the base of the Big Burn Lift at Snowmass, said Monday the “no sack lunches” signs will be removed from the lodge.

“We’re happy to do it, it’s very, very minor,” Drake said. “Typically, what happens is that people with sack lunches will come in and buy a cup of coffee or a Coke and immediately become paying customers,” he explained. “So what we’ve done for the past five or six years, is we’ve simply allowed it. The signs have been up forever, but we just didn’t enforce it anymore, we let it go.”


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