Business Monday: Closing time? Not for all Aspen restaurants, lodges
To close or not to close? It’s a question some Aspen restaurants and lodges grapple with every year after the ski lifts shut down, but there’s not a right or wrong answer.
The benefits of staying open vary, a chief one being that with so many competitors closed during April and May, there’s still enough business to go around for those restaurants and hotels that grind it out during the annual lull.
“You can skim the cream off the milk, and that’s what they do,” said Bob Morris, who runs a firm that manages Aspen Mountain Lodge’s condominium association.
Temporarily shutting down also can make good business sense by keeping down costs, reviewing the business model and giving a thorough spring cleaning (or renovation) to the establishment, while employees can take some time off and recharge for the summer.
Aspen Mountain Lodge closed earlier that normal for the offseason, starting April 9. It’s scheduled to reopen the last week of May.
Bookings, however, were so scant that Morris said he made the call to close earlier.
“We had only four reservations,” he said. “So we had to shut it down. We had a challenging winter because of the snow, and we had expense increases with our wages going up 7 to 8 percent, and we had capital projects.”
Aspen’s iconic Hotel Jerome and its restaurants and bars have been closed since April 2 for a major remodeling project underway that incudes the conversion of the old Aspen Times building into residential suites, as well as new event space and a redesigned outdoor pool and terrace, and a new underground bar and lounge.
Other business operators, however, see the offseason as a time to capture more business when Aspen is in its dead period for tourism, but not perhaps for the working class.
“We pick up a lot of business Monday through Friday,” said Troy Selby, owner of 520 Grill, which serves burgers, sandwiches and tacos, among other offerings. “There are still people who are here — the city of Aspen, landscapers, constructions workers — and they dine more frequently during the offseason because it’s not as crazy here.”
For the Red Onion, staying open during the downtime erases the labor it takes to reopen for the summer.
“We tried shutting down a couple years back and realized that the amount of time you spend to close and reopen, it was better for us to stay open,” said Red Onion general manager Brad Smith.
The Onion will scale back its staff and keep its kitchen open on reduced hours from noon to 9 p.m. during the sleepy period leading up to Memorial Day weekend, which is when Independence Pass traditionally opens and Aspen sees an uptick in visitors. The summer season gets its big annual boost June 15, when the Aspen Food & Wine Classic — one of the city’s hallmark events — returns for another edition. And the hordes don’t typically flee until after Labor Day, though the offseason leading up to winter continues to get busier.
Smith said May tourists will happen upon the Red Onion, often surprised that it’s open because of the abundance of closures.
“We’re one of the only options,” he said “People might come here on vacation at the beginning of May when the (lodge) rates are low, and they’ll walk in and ask why everybody else is closed.”
A few blocks from the Red Onion and closer to Aspen Mountain is CP Burgers, which also will stay open during the springtime lull.
“We have lots people, people in construction, they come here and eat when everything else is closed,” CP Burgers manager Claudia Hernandez said.
Like 520 Grill, CP Burgers is popular with the high school crowd seeking that scarce Aspen meal under 15 or 20 bucks.
“Sometimes we steal some of (the closed restaurants’) customers,” Selby said. “It’s more beneficial to try to be open, and also get the high school students.”
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An unwelcome but familiar weather pattern in the Aspen-area mountains has created conditions that are once again ripe for avalanches. The early, ample snow in October was followed by dry periods. That resulted in a poor foundation for the snowpack. Steep slopes on north to east aspects pose the greatest threat.