As the season starts in earnest, only one new restaurateur is emerging on the downtown Aspen scene while four spaces remain empty.
Ryan Sweeney, former co-owner of Highlands Pizza Co., is putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant at the corner of Galena Street and the Cooper Avenue mall.
He said he expects to open Ryno’s Pies & Pints during the first few days in December. He signed a short-term lease to occupy the subterranean space last occupied by Hunter Bar in the Bidwell building. The building is under contract and will likely be redeveloped at some point, and Sweeney said he hopes he can stay at least until then.
“I’m here until the city says the building is coming down,” he said.
Sweeney has put his own money into renovating the place, which is brighter than before and has brand new bathrooms. He envisions the 3,700-square-foot restaurant to be similar in style of the pizza joint at Highlands, although a bit more upscale. It will mostly comprise pizza, pasta and sandwiches. He plans to have lunch and apres specials.
Sweeney said he enjoyed the success of Highlands Pizza Co. but wanted to branch into the Aspen market.
So far, the transition has been smooth.
“Everyone from the city has been incredible,” he said. “They have done everything they can to help me.”
A few years ago, there wasn’t any available space in downtown Aspen to start a restaurant. This season, there are four restaurants that remain empty, and local commercial real estate brokers and landlords are hoping to fill those voids.
The longest-running empty space is the former N9NE steakhouse on the Hyman Avenue mall, which closed in the spring of 2011. Earlier this year, local businessman Jeffrey Klein had leased it and began renovation to an expanded space, which included neighboring art galleries, but that deal fell through, said Ron Snyder, a real estate broker in charge of the building.
Snyder said the space went from around 1,300 square feet to 3,710 square feet, which includes outside seating. While major building improvements are complete, a new tenant would have to spend up to $500,000 in interior finishes, Snyder said, noting that the landlord already has invested about the same amount.
The landlord is asking for $32 a square foot, plus terms of a triple-net lease that include paying the building’s insurance and maintenance.
“We don’t feel we are out of the ball park,” Snyder said, while recognizing that it’s difficult for restaurants in the current market because of low profit margins and the difficulty in finding loans.
The former Pitkin County Steakhouse and Tavern also remains empty at the corner of Hopkins Avenue and Monarch Street. Restaurateur Rob Seideman closed up shop in September of 2011, after he was notified by landlords Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht that his lease had been terminated. Prior to the tavern, the space was occupied for decades by the Steak Pit.
Lex Tarumianz, president of Pyramid Property Advisors, which manages the building, said he and the landlords are in discussions with a prospective tenant.
“We do have movement,” he said. “It looks positive. ... It’d be nice to have some activity in that space.”
The new Cooper Street Pier building, also owned in part by Hecht and his son Nikos, has a deed-restricted affordable space in the basement available for a restaurant. Per a settlement agreement that resulted from a lawsuit levied against the city of Aspen by the developers, the building’s owners must within six months of the space getting a certificate of occupancy have a “mid-priced” restaurant, bar or brewery in the downstairs space. Construction on the new building is nearly complete.
Commercial real estate broker Bob Langley said he plans to actively market the 1,800-square-foot space.
The upstairs location on Hyman Avenue occupied until last spring by the Silver Queen and decades before that was the longtime restaurant Syzygy, is available for rent.
The Silver Queen and its proprietor, Joel Howard, were evicted after he and the landlord were sued by a London resident who owns two condos above the now-defunct nightclub. The suit accused the Silver Queen of violating the building’s convenants concerning loud music, noise and related activities.
“Contrary to perception, any restaurant can be there, they just can’t have a late-night, loud bar,” said Karen Setterfield, the listing broker for the 2,330-square-foot space.
Setterfield also is marketing some space on the second floor of the Aspen Grove building on Cooper Avenue, near BB’s Kitchen. What is now six separate locations, a restaurant is envisioned for one of them in a 1,280-square-foot space with some outdoor deck seating available.
“If we get a proposal from an eatery, the landlord will work with who ever goes in,” she said of interior renovation and rent price. “It’s a perfect opportunity for the right person.”
The remaining five spaces are between 461 and 575 square feet, with rents ranging from $3,600 to $6,300.