Tom Wester said he is accepting applications for bartenders, wait staff and dishwashers at the Antlers Cafe & Bar, scheduled to open May 1 in Yampa. Those interested can call Wester at 970-846-5389.
Opening your first business is tough enough. But the job becomes even tougher when your first business is a century-old saloon that hasn’t served customers in at least five years.
“I don’t really know what’s working and what’s not working,” Tom Wester said on Monday, in the Antlers Cafe & Bar in Yampa. “I’m finding out today.”
Turns out part of the ice machine froze — not the way it should — and required repairs. Other glitches could arise, too, but Wester said he’ll be ready to reopen the historic South Routt County restaurant May 1, serving lunch and dinner six days a week with a menu that ranges from high-end steak and seafood dishes to burgers, sandwiches and Western fare. Wester will do all the cooking. He’s previously worked as the executive chef at locations including Three Forks Ranch in Savery, Wyo., and Seven Lakes Ranch southeast of Meeker.
Wester is leasing the Antlers building for two years from owners Charles Hamlin, of Denver, and John deNeufville, of New Jersey. The two bought the restaurant in 1997 and closed it in 2005.
A grand-opening celebration is scheduled for late June, Wester said, on a weekend that he hopes will include live music and a free flea market — come one, come all — in the restaurant’s outdoor area, which Wester plans to also use for horseshoe tournaments and summer festivities.
They wouldn’t be the first ’shoes thrown at the corner of Yampa’s Main Street and Moffat Avenue.
The Antlers Cafe & Bar opened between 1904 and 1906 in Yampa, adjacent to the Antlers Hotel that dates to 1899 in a photo owned by Yampa historian Hildred Fogg. The building on the stage line from Wolcott to Steamboat Springs served as a hotel, saloon, pool hall and restaurant for decades of coal miners, lettuce farmers, homesteaders, sawmill workers, hunters, ranching families and tourists visiting the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
The legendary Benedicks owned and operated the Antlers Cafe & Bar from the early 1930s until 1996, raising three children in the back room once used for gambling and raising a little bit of hell in the restaurant up front.
Just about every longtime South Routt resident has a story about Mike Benedick. Recollections of him invariably bring out words such as cantankerous, crotchety and ornery.
But those words, usually, are stated as fondly as the memories.
“He would yell at people all the time,” Wester said. “I’m hearing stories about him from everybody I talk to.”
Wester, 51, said he’s thinking about hosting a “Mike Benedick Story Night” when Antlers reopens. The restaurant’s history will live on in tangible ways, too — Wester is keeping the interior as he found it, with large oil paintings on the walls and taxidermy throughout.
Some of the taxidermy is creative. There’s a “mountain catfish” by the back bar, with the tail of a fish and the head of a mountain cat, and the men’s bathroom features a “rear wolf” that patrons will simply have to see for themselves.
The feel of the Antlers has resonated with South Routt residents and visitors for years. Wester got a taste of that fondness Wednesday during a flawlessly executed surprise birthday party for longtime Stagecoach resident Jennie Lay, a former arts and entertainment reporter for this newspaper.
Lay’s party drew a crowd of locals young and old, and many spoke with excitement about the prospect of an Antlers revival.
Wester said during preparation for the party, he finally began to see his vision for a reopened Antlers Cafe & Bar take shape.
“It’s really a crying shame that it hasn’t been open,” Wester said. “It’s such a unique, cool place.”
Ken Montgomery, owner of Montgomery’s General Merchandise, said bringing the Antlers back could boost local commerce.
“Anything business-wise in Yampa helps, at this point,” Montgomery said. “Anything to keep people coming to town and provide variety.”
The storeowner acknowledged, though, that there’s only so much business for Moffat Avenue, which already is home to Penny’s Diner and the Royal Hotel.
“It does spread the market a little thinner,” Montgomery said about Antlers’ reopening.
Wester knows he faces some challenges in an economic recession. He’s signed up with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association to help with marketing and hopes to serve hungry customers coming into or out of the Flat Tops.
“I’m definitely very nervous,” Wester said. “I’ve never owned a business before.”
He’s had plenty of help — Wester said friends from Steamboat and across the county are pitching in before the opening, and he’s felt welcomed in the unique Yampa community.
“It’s a real, honest-to-goodness Western town,” he said about Yampa, pointing to the dirt road outside his front door. “There aren’t many of those left.”