Justice Snow’s, city of Aspen strike tentative deal through winter | AspenTimes.com

Justice Snow’s, city of Aspen strike tentative deal through winter

The city and Justice Snow's have hatched an agreement to keep the restaurant and bar in the Wheeler Opera House through April 15, provided City Council approves the deal later this month.

That's according to Aspen's Assistant City Manager Sara Ott and Michele Kiley, the owner of Justice Snow's. The matter advances to City Council for approval Nov. 13, Ott said Thursday.

"They will need an open public meeting to provide direction to us," Ott said.

Members of council have maintained they want a restaurant operating in the city-owned Wheeler Opera House this winter. Kiley's lease entered a perilous state when she asked the city in September if it would change the terms by lowering her rent and allowing the restaurant to close for two months during the offseason. The lease, which originally was for five years and has been month-to-month this year, allows closures for two weeks in the fall and spring offseasons.

Kiley also fell behind on rent but returned to the city's good graces by satisfying the $40,574.49 she owed on Oct. 20.

Terms of the new, short-term lease have Justice Snow's paying 8 percent of its gross sales as monthly rent to the city, Ott said. It also is required to offer lunch and supper seven days a week through April 15, she said.

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City council members also have said they want to launch a request-for-proposals process for a long-term tenant. That will be addressed at the same meeting on the Justice Snow's amended lease later this month, Ott said.

Kiley would be eligible to participate in the RFP, but she said Wednesday she considers the coming months as an audition to prove Justice Snow's is worthy of a longer tenancy.

"I'm treating this as an opportunity to show the town that I live to serve," said Kiley, who opened the 2,618-square-foot restaurant in January 2012 after City Council selected her application over a host of other restaurateurs vying for the spot.

Justice Snow's has been stung with criticism that its service has been subpar and its menu items too expensive, save the $12 hamburger and side dish that originally commanded $10.

Kiley said the menu's offering will change when it reopens later this month with the council's OK.

"It will be daily fare for the average working man," she said. "We're really trying to walk the walk and take a look at our business structure."

Justice Snow's once had a staff with as many as 45 full-time employees. That number now is 32, Kiley said.

"This has been really hard on my staff," she said of the uncertainty of the restaurant's future.

Prior to Justice Snow's, Bentley's was the tenant in the public space. A dive-like restaurant and bar, it attracted patrons of lunch specials, pub grub, beer, shots and sports on TV.

Justice Snow's invested more than $600,000 for a complete remodel, while elevating the food offerings, focusing on specialty drinks, removing the TVs and offering poetry readings, live-music events and storytelling sessions, among other events.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com