City of Aspen seeks residents’ help on future Wheeler restaurant |

City of Aspen seeks residents’ help on future Wheeler restaurant

People gathered at Justice Snow's Thursday night for "Winter Art & Action', an event benefitting the climate change advocacy group Protect Our Winters. The event featured artists Corey Summer and Matt Duncan, as well as live music and custom cocktails.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The city of Aspen plans to rely on public feedback regarding the space at the Wheeler Opera House, now up for grabs to a future tenant after April 15.

The city website aspen ​​ is soliciting public feedback and also has a poll question that asks: “Is it important to you that Aspen City Council supports a locally serving restaurant in the Wheeler Opera House?”

As of 9 a.m. Sunday, it hadn’t exactly been going gangbusters, attracting 22 votes, 82 percent of which answered affirmatively to the question.

The request for proposals will be open until 2 p.m. Jan. 12. As of Friday, there had been no applicants, said Rebecca Hodgson, the assistant to city manager.

“Honestly, we don’t expect anything until after Jan. 1,” she said.

The city also will collect the comments through the request-for-proposals period and present them in a summary to City Council at a later date, according to city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin.

Justice Snow’s is the current tenant, following a spate of missteps, including its falling behind on rent and asking the city if it could close longer than its lease allows during the recent fall offseason.

The restaurant reopened last month after satisfying its $40,574 in outstanding rent to the city, which owns the Wheeler Opera House. The city and Justice Snow’s also reached an agreement to keep it open through April 15.

Justice Show’s owner Michele Kiley previously has said she considers the coming months as a tryout to show the council her restaurant — which has occupied the 2,618-square-foot space for more than five years — is the right tenant.

The new lease terms with the city strip away the base rent and have Justice Snow’s paying 8 percent of its gross sales to the city. The restaurant also will be required to stay open seven days a week and serve lunch and dinner during the duration.

The city’s Community Voice website outlines three minimum requirements of the new tenant:

1. It must provide meals (lunch and dinner) for artists working at the Wheeler with flexibility as to menu offerings and time of service.

2. It must offer “grab and go” packaged meals for large festivals at the Wheeler for patrons.

3. It must offer catering services for receptions and special events at the Wheeler

Aside from those requirements, the city notes that “locally serving” is a term open to multiple interpretations.

“Does locally serving mean affordability, family-friendly, that the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, that the restaurant is open 365 days a year? Something else?” the website asks.

The site so far had 17 responses through Sunday morning.

Here’s a sampling:

• “To me Little Annie’s was local. Reasonable pricing homey atmosphere. Open all the time, can go for any meal and know the pricing is reasonable.”

• “A ‘locally serving restaurant’ includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. It does not include catering. The prices should be low enough that the lowest paid Skico employees can afford to eat and drink there every paycheck. The menu doesn’t have to be trendy….at all.”

• “The phrase locally serving is not relevant to me as there are so many different types of locals. No one operator will meet all the needs of our community. That said, the operators should be local and do their best to create a good atmosphere at the most prominent corner in the city. Justice Snow’s was successful in this and provided a lively and diverse experience that enhanced what Aspen could be for much of the community. If the City wants cheaper food then more subsidization is required to do business in Aspen.”

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