Steamboat Springs When Three Wire Bar and Grill opens in a new dining room at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Monday, Routt County will be in the restaurant business. That’s not exactly what the Routt County Board of Commissioners had in mind in June when Airport Manager Dave Ruppel put out a call for proposals from local restaurant operators.
Ruppel said Monday that he didn’t get any takers when he advertised the opportunity to manage the fully equipped restaurant.
“I probably had the most concerns about what would happen if it can’t survive on its own,” Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. “How far do you go (to keep it in business), and what are the other options?”
Ruppel said he sent out 50 information packets to prospective restaurant operators. He said at least six were seriously interested but ultimately did not seek to finalize a contract. Ruppel also reached out directly to restaurant operators and the county hired longtime Steamboat restaurateur Rex Brice to consult with them on the process.
“I was a little surprised,” Ruppel said. “We had some (restaurateurs) who were seriously interested, but what we found was there is still a little bit of uncertainty with the economy, and they aren’t comfortable extending themselves right now.”
Ruppel said it wasn’t easy for the interested business people to fully understand what it would be like to run a food service operation that had the potential to be very busy with airport travelers 3 1/2 months of the year with significantly less traffic the rest of the year.
Brice said he helped with the design of the restaurant and designed a concept that worked for Three Wire’s location in an airport terminal.
“For example, in addition to sit-down dining, we have a grab-and-go counter for travelers who don’t have time,” Brice said. “We also designed the concept so that you can scale the restaurant operation up and scale it back, (to fit the season.) If you have three food servers and two bartenders in April and May, it isn’t going to work.”
Brice said he isn’t concerned with any appearance that the county now will be competing with the private sector.
“It’s important to our entire community that when travelers come through the airport, we offer them good food service and put our best foot forward. One way or another, this needed to be done. Anyway you look at it, it needs to be successful. And the county has hired good people to run it.”
Ruppel said the county has hired former Freshies restaurant manager Tami Fricault and longtime Steamboat chef Dean Martin to operate the restaurant.
“We have an excellent manager, and we have a well-known, talented and creative chef,” Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Diane Mitsch Bush said.
Fricault and Martin will be full-time benefited employees of the county Human Resources Assistant Georgian Kalow said. Each will make a little more than $38,400 annually plus benefits, and the possibility for a raise after six months. They are eligible for a profit sharing bonus. County meeting minutes reflect that the commissioners asked for lengthy survey of the actual salaries paid to a variety of chefs in branded corporate restaurants before arriving at Martin’s compensation.
Kalow said other county employees of the restaurant will be divided among year-round part-time employees who will work 40 hours per week during ski season and 28 hours per week outside ski season. They will receive life insurance and long-term disability insurance as part of their compensation package. Other employees, with the same job description, will work on a seasonal basis during ski season. Wages for all of those jobs would vary with duties and whether or not they are tipped, Kalow said.
Commissioner Doug Monger said, like Stahoviak, that he would prefer the county not to be in the restaurant business but that it is critical that appealing food service be provided for travelers and visitors to the airport.
Based on the fact the restaurant has been profitable in previous years while operating out of a less attractive dining room on the second level of the airport terminal, Monger expects Three Wire (a reference to the depth of snow on a barbed wire fence in a robust Routt County winter) to succeed.
Fricault said Monday that she managed Freshies for more than six years. Three Wire will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days per week including holidays, she said. The menu will include items that are consistent with a western town, including buffalo burgers and elk sausages with grilled peppers.
“Dean brings his own flair to his entrees,” Fricault said. “He’s been a chef for a long time, including doing the catering for Steamboat Meat & Seafood Co. This will not be your typical airport food. He’ll even put his own twist on a turkey wrap.”
Assistant Airport Manager Dean Smith said Fricault and Martin also will be responsible for the food service for Wayfinder, a snack bar inside the secure waiting area for passengers waiting to board their flights.
“All of the food at Wayfinder will come out of the kitchen at Three Wire,” Smith said. He added that there are four 55-inch television screens in the dining area, and after purchasing NFL Ticket, he can assure travelers they won’t miss out on the professional football playoff race.
Fricault said Three Wire will try to offer Colorado food products and even distilled spirits that are made in the state to its customers.
She had no problem hiring for the front of the restaurant, she said, but still is looking for several cooks to fill out the staff.
Ruppel said he’s excited for the opening of the new restaurant and optimistic that Routt County residents will be drawn to the new dining room.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com