"This was our dream — and it just became a nightmare."
That's owner of both the Stagecoach Inn and Craftwood Inn, Dave Symonds, speaking on the surprising (to us) closure of the Craftwood Inn this past Sunday evening, just hours after its emissaries appeared with samples at the Colorado Restaurant Association Pikes Peak Chapter 19th annual Food and Wine Expo.
Putting this in perspective: That's the closure of the area eatery that Indy readers voted as the Best Overall Restaurant in 2013.
Viewed as a local celebrity in that regard, it certainly makes this writer think of those sad movie or music industry meltdowns, when super talented and seemingly successful and contented personalities overdose or take their own lives: On the surface, everything appeared cheery; in reality, there was turmoil behind the scenes. Fans literally gasp when they hear the news.
Not to be overly melodramatic about it (that would be fit only for the nearby Iron Springs Chateau), but to Symonds, who has been in the restaurant industry since 1982, who moved here and bought the historic spot a decade ago, it's a deadly serious matter.
As it turns out, in a very transparent and candid conversation we had earlier today, Craftwood has been bleeding money for several years, and obviously, a lot of people are now out of a job.
In a cool show of support on that note, chef Brother Luck, who left his executive chef position at Craftwood this past fall to launch Brother Luck Street Eats, quickly responded on his Facebook page with the following note:
If any of you have any openings please let me know. We've got some talented craftwood employees looking for work. These servers, chefs, dishwashers, bussers, and cooks need a good place to land .....thx
Over the course of today, restaurant friends from all over town have responded on that thread with a bounty of promising leads and known openings at the likes of Marigold, Liberty Heights, Flatirons, The Club at Flying Horse, Service Systems Associates (who vend the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo), the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Trinity Brewing, Mama Pearls Cajun Kitchen and Bourbon Brothers.
But back to Craftwood's financial woes, Symonds first notes "two years of natural disasters during summer months — the only time when we make money in Manitou."
Just one example of that impact: Symonds tells a story about a busload of diners sent by the Broadmoor, who had committed to a $4,000 private dinner buy-out, but who were unable to reach the restaurant when flood concerns and evacuations closed Manitou Avenue on the night of their reservation.
He says he "kept getting more loans, hoping things would turn around ... we were behind in paying our vendors, but current with the staff — Bestway called and said 'If you don't pay, we're taking your dumpster.'"
On Sunday, Symonds sites only two reservations, when by contrast the fine weather landed him 370 covers throughout the day at the Stagecoach. "When one did poorly, the other did great," he laments, with a deflated tone that points to an unexplained, cruel irony.
Both eateries have been up for sale for the last six months (during which he's received only three inquiries), and though the "Stagecoach does well in summer" it "still loses in winter," he notes.
The lower price point may explain some of the Stagecoach's relative success that keeps it alive today, as Symonds believes that "peopler are now dining out more casually, instead of fine dining."
The reasons for that, he believes, are such factors as increased taxes and a little less on the average consumer's paycheck each month, and continued ripples from the recession.
"When the economy was booming and people were buying $150 bottles of wine, life was good. We made money in 2006," he says. "In 2007 we made half as much. In 2008 we broke even. In 2009, we lost money ... every year now, we've lost more money. I almost wished we hadn't won the Best Overall award, because maybe we wouldn't have dug ourselves even deeper going into winter."
As for the sad, stark situation of today, Symonds still currently pays a mortgage on both properties, and they do remain up for sale. Also, roughly 20 weddings were forced to be cancelled in the coming months at Craftwood, leaving many a bride-to-be in the lurch, as evidenced by tweets today.