Cookie dough dispute

'Hot Cookies Steamboat' calls it quits instead of paying more for lease

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A fixture at the entrance to the Steamboat Ski Area for the past 17 years disappeared unceremoniously this week when a crane loaded the gazebo that housed "Hot Cookies Steamboat" onto a Low-Boy truck that hauled away the little blue and white building with the peaked roof.

Ever since Christmas Day, 1984, owners Larry and Evie Freet have been serving cookies right out of the oven to ravenous skiers rushing to catch a city bus or condo shuttle from their spot on Mount Werner Circle. The recipes are Evie's own, and for 95 cents, skiers could stoke up on a warm white chocolate with macadamia nut cookie, or a peanut butter cookie full of chocolate chips.

Now, dough has come between the Freets and their landlord, the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Not cookie dough, but U.S. currency.

"We just can't make the rent," Larry Freet said.

The Freets have been operating on a year-to-year lease with the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. for the past eight years. This fall, when it came time to renew the lease, landlord and tenant made counteroffers, but neither party deemed the other's terms acceptable.

"As far as I'm concerned we're walking away friends," Ski Corp. Vice President of Real Estate Tim Greene said. "They provided a great product while they were there."

Evie Freet said she's left a little baffled and a little sad over how things turned out.

"We just had a wonderful time here," Freet said, pulling out a three-ringed binder full of snapshots of the crew at Hot Cookies over the years. "It's a landmark and a wonderful thing that made everybody's day just a tiny bit better."

Greene said the long-term fate of Hot Cookies at its present location in the gondola transit center was in doubt no matter what. He said the Ski Corp.'s commitment to the city of Steamboat Springs to begin construction on a redesigned transit center by next summer will take up the small patch of red brick pavers formerly occupied by the Hot Cookies gazebo.

Evie Freet said she and her husband grossed $25,000 their first year in business and grossed $41,000 last year. They employed local high school students at their business.

They paid the Ski Corp. 8 percent of their gross as rent last year. They calculated that was the equivalent of $36 per square foot on their 104-square-foot gazebo. Larry Freet said that when Greene asked for $10,000 up front this year, he calculated that worked out to $97 per square foot.

They contemplated raising the price of their cookies, but calculated the price would have to grow to $1.80 (including sales tax) in order to meet the Ski Corp.'s counter offer. They doubted their customers would support them at that price.

No one would argue that the gondola transit center isn't a high traffic area, but Freet said he couldn't see paying that much money up front. He and Evie countered with a proposal to pay 10 percent of their gross, but the Ski Corp. didn't accept their offer and the Freets decided to walk away from their location.

The Freets won't be economically devastated by the closing of their business this winter; Larry plans to begin his 26th year on the mountain as a ski instructor this winter. And he makes a good living as a licensed plumber in the summer. Evie is a former ski instructor who is employed as a bookkeeper.

"I told Evie 'Hot Cookies' isn't dead," Larry said. "We'd love to find a young couple with a lot of energy like we had 17 years ago," to reopen the shop in another location.

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