Sweet Coloradough circling the wagon in Aspen
A sweet deal in the works for teenage entrepreneurs and an established one who are crowning the ‘croughnut’ at the Popcorn Wagon
The addiction of Aspen is going to get sweeter starting Friday as two teenaged business entrepreneurs and the owner of Sweet Coloradough have partnered up and are dishing out croughnuts, and other “handcrafted hot action” menu items from the Popcorn Wagon.
Eli Hunt and Zach Small, both 17 and juniors at Aspen High School, approached Sweet Coloradough owner Aaron Badolato a few months ago about whether he’d like to set up shop with them.
It was a cold-call to the company email that was immediately returned.
“We didn’t really know him, we were just like Coloradough has a name in this valley if you want doughnuts,” said Small. “It was kind of like a shot in the dark, like there is no chance he does this, right? But he called back immediately and was like, ‘Hey, I got to talk to you guys. I’ve been wanting to open a store in Aspen for a long, long time.”
True story, said Badolato.
Based out of his Glenwood Springs store and with a storefront in Rifle, and previously in Snowmass Village, Badolato has several commercial customers in Aspen but has been looking for a brick-and-mortar setup.
He said he’d been eyeing the Popcorn Wagon in the past but the timing never worked.
Enter Hunt, whose dad, Mark, owns the Popcorn Wagon, which is near the pizza place the teenager was working at this summer.
“I’m walking past this wagon every day to schlep pizzas here and there and I looked at this empty space and the wheels started turning,” Hunt said, noting that he was thinking it would be a project for his business class at school. “I thought it would be a nice little entrepreneurial test run and I asked my dad and he said, ‘I’ll let you have it as like a business experience and go do whatever you want with it and go into the world and maybe fail, succeed, whatever.’”
And with the knowledge that his dad’s guilty pleasure is a croughnut from Sweet Coloradough, the idea was born to bring it to the Popcorn Wagon.
Hunt initially went to his business teacher at school and pitched it as maybe an interactive activity where students would work shifts and get paid out in scholarship, but it got too complicated on the financial side of things.
So he turned to his friend, study mate and hockey mate.
“I’ll give this guy credit, he’s definitely one of the most put together responsible friends of mine. So, thinking of those character traits, I gave him a call,” Hunt said. “It was such an impulse decision.”
Since then, the two have been navigating how to set up a limited liability corporation, buy insurance, understand payroll and taxes, hire a staff, get city approvals, follow COVID-19 protocols and negotiate a business deal with Badolato.
They were doing this all while attending school and engaging in extracurricular activities including robotics, hockey and football.
“We’ve been working on this for probably hundreds and hundreds of hours,” Small said. “And like, it’s here. We are opening.”
Added Hunt, “It’s a cool feeling because we like fell off the map, like we were just off the grid, and my family were the only people who knew where I was.”
Hunt said they’ve tried not to rely on the adults around them to help, so they can learn as much as they can.
“It’s definitely been a very interesting journey,” Hunt said. “When it’s all said and done, it will definitely be a great learning experience for both of us in the future and such an accomplishment.”
Hunt has put up his own money for the capital needed to outfit the wagon, like refrigerators and microwaves. Their company, Aspen Popcorn Wagon, LLC will repay the loan once there’s enough money in the bank to be fully operational and payroll is covered.
Hunt said it was a challenge as a minor to set up a business bank account, or even move money around.
Badolato, 40, said it’s been a “different animal” working with two teenagers in a business, but it’s working out well so far.
“They have good heads on their shoulders,” he said, adding the most difficult part will be staffing.
He estimated that the wagon will need eight employees, including a manager. He’ll rely on some existing staff, as well as himself and his wife and Sweet Coloradough co-owner Anne. Hunt and Small also will work some shifts.
Between 30 and 40 people have applied, and those who rise to the top will be interviewed at the wagon by the partners.
A grand opening will be held on Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. at the Popcorn Wagon, located on Hyman Avenue near the pedestrian mall across from the Wheeler Opera House. There will be a DJ, free samples, and croughnuts, doughnuts, pastries, breakfast burritos, coffee and tea for sale.
“I think the main thing behind Saturday is just like give the town an experience which we’ve lacked for so long, like dancing, listening to music, talking, whatever, so it will be great for at least an afternoon to bring the community together and enjoy each other’s company,” Hunt said.
Socially distancing, of course.
“One of us will be stationed outside making sure you are wearing your mask, staying six feet apart,” Small said.
Mark Hunt, who had no plans for the Popcorn Wagon, said he’s proud that his son and Small have come this far, and he is ready for his Aspen croughnut.
“I’m so excited for these guys,” he said.
And if you don’t know what a croughnut is, you can find out starting at 7 a.m. Friday. The wagon will be open throughout the day and some evenings, based on demand.
“The maple bacon croughnut is $8 but it’s huge,” Small said.
Eli then finished his sentence, “yeah, you eat it and you feel real bad about yourself. … Honestly as bad as it sounds, it’s like the whole concept behind like getting addicted and taking one bite and wanting to drive to Glenwood right now and get one but I can wait until Friday at this point.”
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