And although details are confidential, it seems to be common knowledge that two of Telluride's four liquor stores are in spring mating mode.
"We're in the process of making it happen," Belmont Liquors owner Aaron Tschetter told The Watch this week when asked about his plans to acquire his competitor across Colorado Ave., Telluride Liquors. "It's going to happen," Tschetter reiterated, but said that until the deal is done, he preferred not to disclose details.
Lynn Gumble sounded a similarly reticent note on behalf of the targeted business that she has owned with partner Steve Gumble for the past 15 years, confirming that there is, indeed, a contract but unwilling to trumpet the news as a fait accompli.
"We'll see," said Gumble, with the half-smile of a philosopher. "We gave him six months. It's way too early in the process to know what will or won't happen."
No doubt part of the motivation for Tschetter is to increase, at a single stroke, his share of a saturated market. A similar premise, at least in part, seems to have guided Fletcher McCusker, owner of Las Montañas Restaurant, who recently bought Sofio's Restaurant from Lisa and David Schroeder.
McCusker, encouraged by the success his restaurant has enjoyed over two and a half seasons at the west end of Pacific St., is moving into the old Eagles Restaurant space in the heart of Telluride's downtown. The space, currently being extensively renovated and remodeled, will actually be home to both Las Montañas and Sofio's.
"We're essentially picking up Sofio's out of its current location and moving it into Las Montañas at the old Eagles location," explained David Schroeder. There will be one owner, one staff and one management team and one large menu from which diners can order either Sofio's traditional Mexican fare or Las Montañas's more diverse and upscale pan-Latino offerings such as Argentine steak and Chilean-style seafood.
McCusker, who serves as CEO of Providence Services, a NASDAQ-traded company involved in home health, said that the "volume opportunities" in moving from a 45-seat capacity space to a 175-seat space are "huge." They are also hugely risky, McCusker acknowledges.
"The place is so big it can easily accommodate a double (restaurant)," McCusker said, an idea that led him to discussions of a merger with the Schroeders.
"There seemed to be a lot of sense in the idea of attracting both sets of diners while reducing the overhead," said McCusker.
From the Schroeders' point of view, "something had to happen," as David puts it. With Lucas Price expanding his La Cocina de Luz operation and bringing it on to main street, Las Montañas coming into what may be the premier main street location, and a new Mexican restaurant, Emilio's Grill and Bar, opening in the old Powderhouse space down the street, the Schroeders saw the Spanish writing on the wall.
"We took it on ourselves to find a win-win situation," said David who, with his wife, will remain as a consultant to the business but will have no day-to-day responsibilities in the new joint operation.
With Sofio's on board to amplify Las Montañas's menu, and help fill the seats, McCusker is disposed benignly to the remaining direct competition. La Cocina and Emilio's, he said, both have menus that are different enough from his that he thinks everyone can exploit their own niche. In addition, his plans for the refurbished Eagles space include a stage for musicians that will give Las Montañas "more of a sit-down club atmosphere."
The space McCusker is vacating, formerly home to Jody's Kitchen, will be sublet to another restaurant operator, although it is not known yet who that will be. McCusker said that there is "plenty of interest."
The new tenant of Sofio's former space is known: it will be occupied by Brown Dog Pizza that was, until a few months ago, housed in the old Floradora, now home to the new Floradora.
Schroeder said that Brown Dog was an obvious candidate to solicit for the Sofio's space, for which the lease still has several years to run.
"They're non-competitive," he said, pointing to Brown Dog's very different menu and no desire on the part of the owners to serve breakfast.
Schroeder also made the case that Brown Dog "was needed back on main street." He said that adding the restaurant back to the mix of eating places in the center of town "enhances the likelihood of people wandering into that area" in search of a restaurant choice rather than specifically booking a reservation in advance. The more people wandering, Schroeder reasons, the higher chances for all the restaurants within the two-block area of getting additional incremental business. As a CPA, he likes the better odds that come with higher numbers.
"David really made it happen," said Jeff Smokevitch, who with partners Dan Lynch and Joe Carena owns Brown Dog. The three partners also own and operate Pacific Street Pizza and, as of November, took over the Fly Me to the Moon lease, Telluride's only late night dance spot.
It was just last fall that Brown Dog had to close its doors because of an expired lease. According to Lynch, the business was thriving at the time. He hopes that its casual fun atmosphere and Italian tavern-style fare of pizzas, subs and pasta will again prove successful. Smokevitch noted a few features that should enhance its chances, including video games, a big screen television for groups to watch sporting events, or for birthday party DVDs, a late night menu, and a new bar with 14 beers on tap.
The new Brown Dog hopes to open on May 22, the same date that the old Brown Dog opened, also the first day of a three-day series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. During the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which coincides with the World Cup, Lynch said that the tavern will be open for all the games, even if they are played at 4 a.m. Rocky Mountain time.
Across the street and slightly to the east of the new Brown Dog will be the new Honga's Lotus Petal. Owner Honga Im, unable to satisfactorily renew the lease at her popular Oak and Pacific streets location, and frustrated by the smallness of her kitchen there, was able to secure financing to buy the old Roma Bar and Café space which is now being extensively remodeled.
"I needed to insure my future," Im said.
In addition to being able to seat approximately 30 more patrons inside, and 20 outside, Im said she is particularly excited about the extra back-of-the-house space afforded by the Roma location. The more ample kitchen area, she said, "lends more creativity" to the dishes that she and her staff can prepare, as well as supporting volume more easily, a distinct drawback of her former cramped space.
Too little space, back-of-house or front, is not an issue at Emilio's, now open for business in the cavernous downstairs space that was famous for many years as The Powderhouse. Emilio's owner, Emiliano Naranjo, was approved for a liquor license by the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday. In speaking about his business, he told council that he was encouraged to come to Telluride by locals who came to his Cortez restaurant, Tequila's, a franchise operation.
Narajano's Telluride manager, Eduardo Neri, said the business plan is to capitalize on a lack of "authentic" Mexican food in Telluride. The restaurant's menu, which is extensive, features such Mexican staples as burritos, enchiladas, tamales, fajitas and tacos but also goes a little more epicurean with octopus and jumbo prawns cooked over charcoal. Entrees average between $10 and $15, putting Emilio's solidly at the more affordable end of the Telluride dining experience.
Open for lunch and dinner, Neri said there are daily specials and, now armed with a liquor license, he promised "the best margarita in town, with fresh lime and good tequila." Neri also promised fast turnaround.
"You order food, you don't wait twenty or twenty-five minutes," he said. "You wait four to seven minutes."
Four-year local Phil Gritton, picking up a takeout lunch order, said he thinks Emilio's is "the best thing to happen in Telluride since I've been here." Gritton said he ate at the restaurant "seven times in its first three days."
A new liquor license was also approved by council on Tuesday for Prudent Monkey LLC dba Side Street Tavern, a new venue occupying the former location of Tomboy Coffee Roasters. Principals Travis Julia and Trevor Leonard have partnered previously in running the Vaudeville Bar at the Sheridan Opera House, an operation that Travis told council he takes pride in and runs professionally. Leonard said he is "super excited to get into my own business."
Leonard explained that the aim of his new undertaking with Julia is to create more of a "social atmosphere" than exists in most bars in town. Serving a limited menu of appetizers and desserts, the tavern will feature some soft live music like acoustic guitar but nothing loud.
"It's a very interesting, unique space," said Julia. "It's small, intimate, casual a nice place to get a cocktail, a nice ambiance."
Julia said he expects the tavern's hours to be from approximately 5 p.m. to midnight.
A letter of protest from the homeowner's association of the neighboring building, based on prior bad experience with noise and loitering, was withdrawn following discussions with the new operators. "We wholeheartedly support their application," the HOA spokesperson wrote to council…an auspicious beginning.
An inauspicious end may be in store for the West End Tavern whose lease terminates at the end of this month, exactly two and a half years after it was entered into. Although the business, located across the street from the old Las Montañas space on Pacific Street, "is in the black," according to part-owner Jay Raible, he doesn't know quite what the future holds.
"It's a situation that's evolving," he said. "We're planning on wrapping it up Friday and then we're all going on vacation in May." Unlike his partners Moussa Konare and Michael Lee, Raible's vacation plans include a side-trip into marriage. Following his honeymoon, Raible doesn't know whether or not he will be able to return to business as usual, as the owner of the West End premises and the two adjoining lots has major development plans for the site.
"Our best case scenario is that there is an outside chance to stick around for the summer," Raible said. After that, all bets are off.
"I'd like to think that we can work something out," said Raible, but added that without knowing when construction will commence, how long it will take, or what kind of additional costs he and his partners may be facing to lease tonier premises, he was powerless to make a prediction.
And so the vagaries and vicissitudes of Telluride's eateries and drinkeries go on.