One of our restaurants held its last supper a couple days ago, closing its doors after 31 years of feeding Gunnison.
This closing, by the House of China, was motivated not by finances but by the owners’ desire to retire after decades of long hours and seven-day weeks of work. The owners did attempt to sell, for several years, but got no takers, so now they’re taking their retirement and going home.
Kara and Gilly both participated in the Last Days, Kara and her husband even braving the final lunch, which required two hours but resulted in Kara scoring the recipe of the restaurant’s famed “Aku Aku” bowl of alcohol. She did not get one of the actual bowls the party drink was served in — those got snapped up quickly by other sentimental customers.
While Gunnison’s Chinese restaurants have immediately been halved, the space will remain a restaurant: 5B’s BBQ is moving down the road from its tiny space in a former doughnut shop, an act that ought to quintuple or more their customer area.
But this moment still feels like it could be a portent of the not-good kind. While the House of China’s effort should indicate the difficulty of selling a restaurant around here, it has not stopped several eateries from placing themselves on the market, much of it appearing to motivate from a lack of staff.
The owners of the Gunnisack, for instance, also of retirement age, have made no secret of their irritation at a lack of help, particularly qualified help. Some of their social media posts have been regrettable to the point that they have been taken down, and their hours have been so all over the map that it’s impossible to know when the restaurant might next be open — and what might be on the ever-dwindling menu. Even as they add an entire ice cream and dessert shop.
The Twisted Fork went up for sale because those owners couldn’t find staff either, although they were more circumspect about their circumstances. And I haven’t seen the “for sale” ad recently, so maybe that plan’s gone on the back burner, as it were.
After my sister spent 45 minutes waiting for a table at short-staffed El Paraiso this fall, I walked past the ReMax office to discover the family-owned restaurant listed for sale (for a cool $950,000). Cause and effect? Maybe.
The Ol’ Miner Steakhouse has been for sale (for over $1 million) almost since its inception many years ago, and rumors were rife this summer that said sale had finally taken place — to the owner of a chain of barbecue places in Texas. His truck was even spotted behind the Ol’ Miner. But then the mill started rumoring that the sale had fallen through. It remains the Ol’ Miner, and the new rumor on the street — one I personally hope comes true — is that it may resume breakfast service.
If they can find the staff. A former neighbor of ours told us he logged over 13 miles on one shift while waiting tables throughout the two-story restaurant, because they didn’t have adequate staff.
Up in Crested Butte the problems appear to be much more dire. Even as real estate and businesses change hands fast and furiously as we seem to be in a power play between the Dodger billionaire and a more home-grown guy who made his fortune revitalizing Larimer Square in Denver, these People of Money have not yet figured out that they are the problem, not the solution.
Vann took his daughter snowboarding (on 30 inches of new snow, I hear from the CB newspaper) Tuesday, but when they wanted to end their morning with food, they were shut down. They stopped at five or six restaurants in both Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte — and every one of them was closed. During ski season.
Gilly’s husband drives a bus between those two ski towns, and he confirmed that Tuesday seems to be one of the days these places that can’t find help have selected as a day off. You’d think one of them would want to capitalize on everyone else’s closure, but maybe when you’re stretched so thin you focus on how you get through and not what anyone else is doing, and you decide to close on your traditionally slow day to rest up for the masses on the other days.
Vann and Mahthilda didn’t find food until they reached McDonald’s in Gunnison, where “Help Wanted” signs abound and college tuition is promised, and Gilly’s husband reports the problem in Crested Butte goes well beyond food: since the Town of Crested Butte can’t hire enough help, the skating rink is only partially open, and the sledding hill may be closed completely. Even removal of this 30 inches of snow: well, you’re just going to need to be careful making your way around some areas, because there aren’t people to fill the jobs.
While other places are blaming the pandemic, the local perception seems to lie more with basic economics: until these billionaires buying up Crested Butte want to start paying service personnel six-figure salaries — which never seems to be the billionaire way — no one but the People of Money can afford to live here.
Down here in Gunnison, only nominally tainted by billionaires (so far), the city has proudly announced the opening of the application process for the first available units at the Lazy K affordable housing project: for a mere $232,000, qualified locals can buy their own patch of paradise — all 800 square feet of it.
So welcome, one and all, to the new Gunnison Valley. In exchange for your much-needed tourist dollars, we are going to give you expensive places to stay with limited activities to undertake. Oh, and bring your own food. Or, if you’re packing that spare million or so, you can buy your own restaurant — but maybe not the people needed to work it.