Azteca needs new location

Popular burrito place attracts Steamboat cross-section

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One of Steamboat Springs' most popular casual eateries has two months to find a new home. Azteca Taqueria, where high school students and defense attorneys rub shoulders over burritos, has lost its lease in the two-story log building at 402 Lincoln Ave.

Partners Jim Ruggiero, Jonas Gabriel and John Bitume say they thought they were prepared to move the restaurant to a location on Oak Street. But now they're back in the hunt after losing that spot to someone else.

"We'd like to find a place downtown that doesn't cost $5,000 a month," Bitume said.

They have until Oct. 31 to find a new home for the business.

Azteca has been a fixture in downtown Steamboat for seven years, but the restaurant has a loyal following that is a cross section of social and economic backgrounds. There's no table service and no crockery -- the lunch crowd lines up in front of a cold case of beverages and watches as employees build burritos, chimichangas, fish tacos and more to the customers' specifications. At noon on a weekday, the line of customers often winds through the eatery's tables.

Customer Spencer Tamblyn summed up the role Azteca plays in the community.

"Azteca fills that niche for people who want something filling and affordable in downtown," he said.

Johnny Walker filled his-- pun--ch card at Azteca on Thursday evening and headed home to share a meal with his wife.

"I take (a burrito) home, and we make a salad, and we split it. We make dinner for two for six or seven bucks. I know for a lot of middle school kids, this is a place downtown where they can afford to eat."

Along with Azteca, Brook--lynn's Pizza is losing its sublease at the location. Brooklynn's will resurface Nov. 1 at 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue in the space formerly occupied by Yampatika. The eatery will add fresh bagels to its lineup.

The building that houses Azteca and Brooklynn's Pizza once was Walt Florquist's filling station and now is being sold by owners Magnetic North of Milwaukee to Jace Romick. He hopes to move Romick's Home Collection from its location in the Riverside Shopping Center. After remodeling in November, Romick said he probably will wait until January 2006 to move his Western-themed furniture store.

"It gave us an opportunity to move Romick's Home Collection into a facility that fits our style," Romick said. He added that he's a regular customer at Azteca and is as eager as everyone else to see it find a new home.

Bitume said he doesn't resent Romick's purchase of the building. He and his partners have just been caught off guard by the loss of the Oak Street location.

In an unrelated change, Brauns Bar & Grill, in the Harbor Hotel building, will close, perhaps temporarily, this fall. Future plans for the restaurant are uncertain. Owners Karen and Steve DeLine are investors in the Harbor Hotel as well as owners of the restaurant. The hotel is being sold, and the new owners intend to demolish it. Karen DeLine said she and her husband are looking for a new location but consider themselves real-estate investors and developers before restaurateurs, and there's a possibility Brauns will not reopen here.

Bitume said a downtown location is key to his business, and he and his partners have struggled to find a landlord who wants a restaurant.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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