YVRA scrambles for food options

Charlie’s ChuckWagon operator asked to open secure-area eatery

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— Limited in what they can do with Yampa Valley Regional Airport’s two primary eateries because of a contract dispute, officials are getting creative as the travel season reaches fever pitch.

Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said Monday that he has asked Charlie Epp, owner of Charlie’s ChuckWagon, to expand his main terminal breakfast operation to offer a full menu of food choices. Ruppel said he hopes to have Epp selling food within the airport’s secure area by the end of the week. Until then, he said the gift shop in the secure area would offer sandwiches.

Last week, Routt County, which operates the airport, shut down HDN Paradise Bar & Grill and Hot Dog’n Paradise because of contract issues with operator Trini Riley.

Riley hasn’t returned numerous phone messages requesting comment.

Ruppel said Monday that Riley had several default issues with her contract. She has provided food services at the airport for more than two years.

Ruppel said the issues include failure to make monthly payments and not having the required liability insurance for the second floor restaurant and hot dog stand, which is located within the first floor secure area. Ruppel said he worked with Riley to correct the issues, but she didn’t comply.

Riley’s contract was up at the end of the ski season. Because the county plans to submit a request for proposals this spring, a process that could take months to complete, Ruppel said Epp was asked to expand his role.

“Since he already has a contract with us to provide food service, it’s very easy for me to amend his contract to add more service,” he said. “If I go after another food vendor, I have to go through the RFP process, according to county policy. For something that’s temporary like this, it’s much easier for me to handle it this way.”

Ruppel said Riley owns the equipment in the restaurant and hot dog stand. He said she has until Thursday to remove it.

Epp, who also operates C’s Catering in Hayden, has served food at the airport for 20 years, including 17 years catering for the airlines.

He previously offered a full menu from his Charlie’s ChuckWagon two years ago. Epp submitted a proposal to operate the restaurant and secure-area eatery, but Riley was chosen instead. After a year absence from the airport, Epp said he was asked to return to offer espresso, lattes, muffins, rolls, breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches.

In the secure area, Epp said he would like to offer a menu that includes barbecue beef, barbecue pork, elk bratwurst, buffalo bratwurst, Chicago-style hot dogs, burritos, sandwiches, homemade soups, chips, snacks and beverages.

“I believe it’s really important to put a good taste, and that’s not a pun intended, in the mouths of people who are leaving Steamboat,” Epp said Monday. “That’s the last contact that they have with this area until they come back for another vacation. I really want them to be happy until the end, until they fly home so they’re satisfied with their whole Steamboat experience.”

He said Charlie’s Chuck­Wagon operates from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and he will be open in the secure area from 6 a.m. until the last flight of the day.

Ruppel said because the county had no plans to solicit bids for a permanent concession vendor, the second floor restaurant won’t operate this season. He said a new restaurant, under construction on the first floor outside security, is planned to open by the 2011-12 ski season.

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