Julie, Tara and Jill Wernig, shown from left, have opened a new business, Mountain Mama's, at the Gondola Transit Center near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The business offers hungry skiers the opportunity to purchase crepes, hot cookies and even a meatball sandwich if they choose before hitting the slopes.

Photo by John F. Russell

Julie, Tara and Jill Wernig, shown from left, have opened a new business, Mountain Mama's, at the Gondola Transit Center near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The business offers hungry skiers the opportunity to purchase crepes, hot cookies and even a meatball sandwich if they choose before hitting the slopes.

Wernig sisters open crepe caboose at ski area base

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Julie, Jill and Tara Wernig, shown from left, opened Mountain Mama's.

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Tara Wernig prepares a crepe inside Mountain Mama's. Tara, along with her sisters Julie and Jill, opened the business and started serving crepes, cookies and even an occasional meatball sandwich the first week of January.

Wernig women recommend :

- Jill: Caprese with chicken: fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil pesto

- Julie: Tigerlilly: sweet crepe with chocolate batter, orange sherbet, orange butter, chocolate shavings and chocolate drizzle

- Tara: Popeye & Olive Oyl: savory crepe with spinach with garlic-infused olive oil, white balsamic raisins, chicken and sliced almonds; and the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: warm peaches with cinnamon, fresh raspberries, vanilla ice cream and ginger snap crumbles

Mountain Mama's at the Gondola Transit Center is open from about 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

— That caboose just looks like it came from Texas, doesn't it?

It should. The women who run Mountain Mama's, the new crepe spot at the Gondola Transit Center, hauled the car up from Amarillo. The caboose smells of grilled batter and broadcasts tunes along with the sounds of three 20-something sisters talking, teasing and cooking. The Wernig women have a vision, and it's caboose-shaped - for now.

Jill, Julie and Tara Wernig hope the venture blossoms into something larger. They'd discussed building a riverfront bar and grill, but it didn't fall into place. The sisters opened Mountain Mama's on Jan. 6 at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

"We went to the mountain and brought our business plan, and it all happened really fast," Julie Wernig said Wednesday. "It was very exciting that we got open as soon as we did."

The Wernig women's parents, Bill and Jean, and their younger sister, Heidi, have worked alongside them. Bill and Julie Wernig picked up the caboose, and Bill helped paint and fix it up. Jean has baked cakes for 25 years, her daughters said, and she makes fillings and does preparation work. Heidi is in college and worked with her sisters before leaving to study in Malta.

The women have worked in restaurants and cooked all their lives. None have formal business training.

"We started this because we love this town so much, we wanted to create a way for us to stay here," Julie Wernig said.

The Wernigs see Mountain Mama's as part of a larger push to add character and fun to Steamboat Springs. They moved here from the East Coast in elementary school, and Julie and Jill already have left and returned. They want to see other young people start funky businesses in town.

"We think Steamboat's losing a little bit of the good aprÃs ski fun," Jill Wernig said. "We're losing that. People come to ski, and they come back for fun aprÃs ski."

She pointed to Rasta Pasta, a Caribbean-themed restaurant in Breckenridge. People talk about that spot after they leave, Jill Wernig said.

The sisters want to create the same impression and said the mountain needs more businesses with character.

"There's a huge gap from what's been here and what needs to come," Tara Wernig said.

Character of their own

Mountain mamas, the women explained, are Western women who live the mountain lifestyle. Pictures of skiers, cowgirls and other tough-looking dames dance across the menu.

The menu is a study of the women's personalities. They cooked practice crepes at home with friends and sell sweet, savory and breakfast items.

"The names are related to us in some way," Jill Wernig said.

Customers can pick up a crepe named for a song made up in childhood (Auntie Jean's Apple Pie: Tasty Pokes), a flower they saw on vacation (Shame on You Lady) or a run on the ski hill they learned on back east (Sweet William).

A couple are celebrity-themed, including the Jimmy Buffett.

"We love Patrick Swayze, and 'Dirty Dancing' is our favorite movie," Jill Wernig said. Hence The Swayze: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," a crepe named after the actor and a line from the film.

There's also a Supercalifragil-isticexpialidocious and a Tutti-Frutti.

"We just wanted to hear people saying the names," Tara Wernig said.

So, what's the favorite?

"The Desperado is by far our top seller," Jill Wernig said.

The women are pleased that they went with crepes. Jean Wernig made them for her daughters growing up.

"They're very versatile and easy to hold, like a wrap. : It's practical for us," Julie Wernig said.

Mountain Mama's also offers hot cookies - a nod to Hot Cookies Steamboat, which served treats in the transit center until 2001. And the menu includes a random meatball sub - a nod to Bill Wernig, who often orders four at a time, his daughters said.

Taking it on the road

The women hope to continue Mountain Mama's beyond ski season. They'd love to snag a summertime spot downtown. But if that doesn't work, they have a plan.

"We're thinking about if we don't find a place just traveling and doing festivals, being gypsies," Jill Wernig said.

They plan to haul the caboose to Mile High Music Festival in Denver and hope to do Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming and Telluride's Blues & Brews Festival.

That means they're going to be spending a lot of time together. The Wernigs don't seem to mind.

"We're sisters: We argue," Jill Wernig said. "But we also laugh really hard. : It's better that we're family; we know we have to get over it. You can't just walk away from your family."

The women funnel that fuzzy family love into Mountain Mama's. For example, anyone who orders a crepe with peanut butter can be assured the sisters will trace a heart in it - just like Jean Wernig used to do with their peanut butter sandwiches.

"Everything's made with love, and there's extra love on top," Jill Wernig said. "That's free. We don't charge for love."

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