City of Aspen cuts lease with Justice Snow’s owner; restaurant closing early |

City of Aspen cuts lease with Justice Snow’s owner; restaurant closing early

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Justice Snow's will be closing its doors Feb. 28, as the city is terminating the restaurant's lease early due to non-payment.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

After a six-year run, Justice Snow’s in the city-owned Wheeler Opera House is calling it quits. The last day of the restaurant’s operation is Wednesday.

Owner Michele Kiley had a lease with the city through April 15 but the two parties agreed to terminate it effective Feb. 28.

Kiley is behind on rent for January and has not paid for February, which is a $20,000 loss to the city. The city is proposing to waive that amount in exchange for three walk-in coolers, which will be used by the new tenant.

City Council is expected Monday to approve a lease with Elk Mountain Hospitality, led by Bill Johnson. He plans to open his new restaurant, Aspen Public House, on June 1.

Justice Snow’s fell out of the city’s good graces when Kiley got behind in rent last fall, and closed longer than what elected officials preferred. The city decided not to extend her lease and found a new tenant through a request for proposals process.

Meanwhile, the restaurant’s reputation took a dive, and so did the business.

“Our business model is hemorrhaging thanks to this controversy,” Kiley said, adding that she recognizes her missteps; however, doing business with the government has been frustrating.

But she said there’s been a community-wide misperception that she was getting a break on rent from the city, and the public expected more affordable menu items than what she could offer.

“My lease is the same as (Johnson’s),” she said, adding she was paying between $10,000 and $11,000 a month, plus 8 percent of gross sales. “It’s a not a subsidized lease rate.”

Johnson’s proposed lease calls for an annual base rent of $125,664, plus 8 percent of gross revenue. Johnson, who owns Capitol Creek Brewery in Basalt, told council last week he is confident he can provide mid-priced menu items and run a profitable business. In his lease, it’s noted that in year one Johnson expects gross revenue to exceed $2.3 million.

Kiley said she is OK with closing early so that her employees, some of whom have been with her since she opened in 2011, can find work while it is tourist season.

“I’m actively helping them find employment,” she said.

While the city will take possession next week, Kiley can access the space by appointment to remove belongings.

Kiley said she wishes Johnson luck, and she will help with a smooth transition. But before that, she plans to go out with a bang, providing live music Sunday and Wednesday nights.