Steamboat Springs The owners of Sweet Pea Market and Cafe hope to reopen the downtown business sometime in winter or early spring, but they’re leaving plenty of other options on the table.
It’s been nearly two months since county officials revoked Sweet Pea’s retail food establishment license, shutting the doors of the downtown business for at least two months after citing noncompliance with health regulations. A Prudential Steamboat Realty sign now sits in front of the property, and a demolition permit has been issued for two structures there — a shed in the backyard and a roof over a walkway.
The primary goal of Sweet Pea owners Jonathon Hieb and Katherine Zambrana is to meet licensing requirements and reopen.
“There’s a lot of plans. There’s plans to reopen — that’s probably No. 1,” Hieb said Thursday. “There’s a lot of things that need to be done for that to happen.”
Hieb and Zambrana are eligible to receive a new license Monday, but Hieb said a significant and costly amount of work remains to meet requirements.
“The earliest possible reopening date would be late winter, early spring,” he said about Sweet Pea’s downtown location.
Adrienne Stroock, broker associate with Prudential Steamboat Realty, is the listing agent for the 0.23-acre Sweet Pea property, which sits between the Yampa River and Yampa Street and is offered at $1.15 million.
“It’s basically to test the market and see what’s going on out there,” Hieb said about the listing.
The owner of the property is Benjamin Zambrana, Katherine Zambrana’s father. County records state that Benjamin Zambrana bought the property from James Reichert in April 2009 for $850,000.
County officials issued a demolition permit for Sweet Pea last week. Carl Dunham, of the Routt County Regional Building Department, said the permit allows demolition of two structures built on the property without a permit.
“I believe that they’re (demolishing) the shed that was built in the backyard and the small roof on the side of the building,” Dunham said. “Once those are done, then they can reapply for their licensure and get open again — that’s the goal.”
Hieb confirmed that the demolition permit relates to a freestanding shed and the slanting roof over the walkway to Sweet Pea’s patio and outdoor seating area. He said replacing that roof and the fence on Sweet Pea’s west side would be necessary for Sweet Pea to reopen as a full-service restaurant, using the patio to its fullest capacity.
“That whole side entrance has to (have) a permanent roof, and that fence line has to be turned into a permanent wall that’s up to code,” Hieb said.
Hieb estimated that a permanent roof and new wall could cost $30,000 to $60,000.
Also up in the air is Sweet Pea’s walk-in refrigeration.
Hieb said Sweet Pea’s basement walk-ins require modifications that could be too complicated for the cost and result.
“It might be much simpler to build a separate walk-in in the backyard,” he said. “That could be as cheap as $5,000.”
He said Dunham and the Building Department have been helpful in outlining necessary improvements.
Hieb said if those improvements cost too much, “we’re going to sell the building and maybe go back to what we used to do, which is selling farm-fresh produce” at vegetable stands.
“We’re weighing our options right now,” he continued. “If it’s not too expensive to reopen and we can recoup those costs, then that’s what we’ll choose to do.”
Getting up to code
The Routt County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Routt County Board of Health, decided Sept. 14 to revoke Sweet Pea’s retail food establishment license until at least Nov. 15, which is Monday.
The Board of Health hearing was required by state law after the Routt County Department of Environmental Health assessed three fines of $1,000 each to Hieb and Zambrana. They paid all fines.
Mike Zopf, director of the county’s environmental health department, showed the Board of Health documentation of seven notifications of noncompliance and seven follow-up inspections at Sweet Pea between July 6 and Sept. 3.
The violation that led to the inspections, fines and hearing involved Sweet Pea’s operation during summer with more seating capacity than its one restroom allowed, according to state health regulations.
Sweet Pea’s building permit for a second bathroom was approved Aug. 20 and issued Aug. 26. The Building Department conducted its final inspection of the second bathroom Sept. 7. The bathroom remains installed and approved.
Hieb repeatedly has said since issues arose in June that he intends to reach compliance with all county regulations.
Other violations cited at Sweet Pea in summer included food stored beneath an unshielded sewer line in a basement walk-in cooler installed without a permit. The Board of Health said public health and safety concerns, accountability issues for the estimated 250 food establishments in Routt County, restaurant inspection compliance and even potential tourism impacts also factored into the revocation.
Inspections are a constant part of the food service business.
Zopf said his department conducted 483 inspections countywide between July 1, 2009, and June 30 of this year. Inspectors found 505 critical violations during that time. Food service operators corrected all violations in a reasonable timeframe, he said. More than 200 of those violations were corrected on-site, and 186 were corrected before a follow-up inspection.
From June 25 to Sept. 22, a period roughly parallel to Sweet Pea’s inspection process, Zopf said his department conducted 106 inspections countywide. Those inspections turned up 114 critical violations, Zopf said, 33 of which involved Sweet Pea. All 81 other violations were corrected in a reasonable time, he said.
Of the 33 critical violations cited at Sweet Pea, Zopf said, only six were corrected. Those corrections were on-site, at the time of the inspection.
Zopf and Dunham each said they’ve talked with Sweet Pea owners more than once since the September revocation.
“They’ve been in a couple of times,” Zopf said. “At this point, it’s just providing them with the minimum requirements, and then they’re going to determine how they’re going to proceed.”
Zopf said this week that his department had not received any renovation plans from Sweet Pea since the license revocation.
Dunham said he sent Hieb and Zambrana a letter in October detailing Sweet Pea’s steps to comply with the Building Department. Hieb said Thursday that the letter “formed a clear-cut path for what we need to do,” and he reiterated that county staff have been helpful in recent weeks.
Cost of business
Hieb and Zambrana operated a vegetable stand outside Ace at the Curve after the revocation, but that business dried up with the changing seasons.
“We’re bleeding money right now,” Hieb said Thursday. “The longer we stay unopened, the less money there is. The bank is not going to delay mortgage payments for us.
“It’s a lot of hard work. I think a lot of people have a misconception that just because you own a business in this town, you’re automatically rich. It’s very expensive to do business in this town.”
The Steamboat Springs City Council held a public forum Tuesday night to discuss how the city could improve the local business climate.
Hieb said he’d like to see a small business committee that could provide guidelines for new businesses seeking city and county compliance.
“I think that we could make the process more streamlined and more appealing for potential businesses,” he said. “I think it could be much easier.”
Sweet Pea employed more than 20 workers this summer, when the patio saw crowds at lunch and the market often did brisk business.
“Since we were shut down, the community has really supported us,” Hieb said. “We’re very thankful for that.”