Gas outage another gut-punch for Aspen restaurants, lodges
No heat, hot water hurting business during an already difficult season
Aspen business operators Monday once again were resigned to a force outside of their control and hitting them in the cash register.
During what is supposed to be Aspen’s most lucrative time of the year, they were grappling with yet another setback — a natural gas outage reportedly triggered by an intentional act on a public utility.
“This is just par for the course in 2020,” Chris Lanter, the co-owner of both Cache Cache and Home Team BBQ, said Monday.
Black Hills Energy shut down gas to 3,500 customers late Sunday night after three of its Aspen sites were vandalized, authorities said.
With ovens down and the heat out due to the outage, Cache Cache ownership elected to close the downtown restaurant Monday. Home Team, located at the base of Buttermilk, wasn’t hit by the strike, Lanter said.
“We were fortunate out there,” he said.
Downtown Aspen restaurants and lodges couldn’t say that.
Those restaurants adhering to public health orders limiting indoor-seating capacities to 25% were operating on thin margins as it was. And some establishments with electric-powered kitchens still saw their operations deterred because their dishwashers are gas-powered.
Others had to adjust, like New York Pizza, and pare down their menu offerings. With its gas-powered pizza oven out of commission, there was no pie to serve.
“We’re about to make a bunch of Italian subs and we have salads,” said co-owner Earl Rodgers ahead of the noon lunch hour.
The gas-less operation, Rodgers said, was not built to last.
“We’re in here if they turn on the gas,” he said. “If not, we’ll have to close.”
Just up the Hyman mall, Ellina restaurant took industrious means to stay open. With an electric baseboard heater, diners could eat in comfort.
They also planned to do some meal preparations outside and use the convection oven inside.
“I just rented a propane grill and six-burner stovetop from a party rental place, so we’re going to cook outside,” owner Jill Carnevale said.
It was a short-term arrangement so the restaurant would not have to turn away reservations.
“We’re just going to see if we can make it work,” said Carnevale, adding, “If this was Jan. 10, we’d probably close. But it’s important. They have no hot water in the hotels. They might at least be able to come here and have a meal and a drink.”
At Aspen Mountain on Monday, the on-mountain dining options at the Sundeck and Bonnie’s were limited, Aspen Skiiing Co. warned skiers and snowboarders early Monday morning. The building did not have heat, but the outside tents and igloos put up because of the pandemic were an option to warm up, though space was limited. Food choices also were limited.
At The Little Nell, Skico closed Ajax Tavern and kept Element 47 open to hotel guests only until further notice.
“Given the most current information we have from Black Hills Energy, we are hopeful that hot water and heat will be restored by Tuesday morning,” Little Nell general manager Jonathan Fillman said in a statement. “Once the gas starts flowing, it will take a few hours for our boilers to reheat, and begin to produce hot water and warm air. We expect to have a fully operational kitchen in the morning once natural gas service has been restored.“
Local property managers also felt the crunch from Monday’s outage. About 500 residential units managed by the Romero Group fell within the impacted area, principal Dwayne Romero said.
In turn, Romero and his team sourced around 80 to 90 space heaters Monday to help residents most in need of warmth. (Black Hills Energy also brought in a few thousand space heaters from Denver.)
“We literally cleared the shelves. … We went to Lowe’s and Wal-mart and to Ace Hardware to assemble some inventory that we can then distribute to those that are in the most need,” Romero said. “We’re doing what we can.”
Guests at Skico’s Little Nell, Residence at The Little Nell and Limelight Aspen were provided with space heaters and additional blankets, the company said. Skico also offered guests “our assistance should they prefer to move to other accommodations not affected by the gas outage.”
The company said it did not plan to give refunds to guests staying at its affected hotels.
Bob Morris, who manages the Aspen Mountain Lodge, said guests were not happy Monday morning after a cold night without heat.
They would be getting refunds, Morris said.
“I can’t expect a guest to smile and say ‘no problem, I’ll pay you $200 a night to be in a cold hotel or be in a town where I can’t even get dinner,'” he said.
Staff writer Kaya Williams contributed to this report.
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