Our view: No reason to ground eatery | SteamboatToday.com

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Our view: No reason to ground eatery

A disappointing first season of operation for Yampa Valley Regional Airport's Three Wire Bar & Grill means it's time for Routt County to adjust course, not abandon ship.

Based on the restaurant's gross revenue during the 2011-12 ski season, we think the potential remains strong for the county-operated restaurant to be profitable. Even break-even status would be an improvement over its performance in its first few months, when food and alcohol sales were good but expenses were much too high.

Airport Manager Dave Ruppel told the Routt County Board of Commissioners last week that Three Wire lost about $30,000 during the six months of the ski season. That total doesn't include the restaurant's start-up costs and county overhead charges.

It was encouraging that the restaurant, which was built as part of the airport's Phase 3 improvements, grossed more than $120,000 in February and March despite a rough ski season that saw the number of travelers coming through YVRA decrease an estimated 5 percent from the 2010-11 ski season. By comparison, during the busy ski season of 2007-08, the former Paradise Bar & Grill at YVRA did more than $130,000 in gross revenue during the months of January through March.

Less encouraging, however, is that Three Wire spent nearly $250,000 on personnel during the ski season flight schedule. Ruppel admitted to the commissioners that the number was too high, and he said with a season under its belt, the restaurant now knows where staffing levels need to be. He also expressed his belief the restaurant can comfortably raise the price of its food and drinks next season.

It's important to note that the airport is a self-sufficient facility that operates much like an enterprise fund. Losses at the restaurant aren't subsidized by county taxpayers, but rather by all the travelers and airlines that use the airport.

Critics of the county's decision to operate the airport restaurant no doubt feel vindicated by Three Wire's inability to turn a profit from the get-go. We can't fault their skepticism of county government's ability to effectively operate a business that 50 private restaurateurs refused to bid on.

But as we've said before, decent food and beverage service at YVRA is essential to the travel experience, and not having a restaurant isn't an acceptable option. The extreme peaks and valleys of seasonal airport traffic at YVRA makes Three Wire one of the toughest restaurants to operate in the Yampa Valley. But it must operate, and the county must demand better results during the 2012-13 ski season.