Empty mall

Save for a woman and her pet, an empty Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall is pictured on Monday. Aspen restaurants and other businesses are grappling with an early end to a typically busy month — and facing the loss of off-season and summer business — due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the loss of business due to the coronavirus pandemic bleeds into Aspen’s next peak season — with early summer’s Food & Wine Classic and Ideas Festival canceling earlier this week — local restaurateurs are trying to figure out how to pivot and plan for a future filled with unknowns.

“Usually when times are tough, the solution is to hustle. It’s getting out there and cooking and just working as hard as we can,” said Chris Lanter, who co-owns the posh Cache Cache and is a partner at Home Team BBQ. “This is bizarre because we can’t do that.”

Many restaurateurs, especially those in fine dining, view the loss of Food & Wine and the Ideas Festival — which together would have spanned mid-June to the first few days of July — as delaying the start of summer to July.

“It’ll be a full offseason in June,” Lanter said. “We’re expecting lower sales because of [fewer] people potentially being here.”

Lanter is working to figure out how to adjust at both restaurants and said he doesn’t have an answer yet.  

Since the pandemic escalated this month in the U.S., the Home Team restaurant group, which operates five properties (four in South Carolina and one in Aspen), laid off its entire staff, which consisted of about 400 total employees, 75 of whom were local.  

“Right now, we’re focused on putting all of our ducks in a row and reopening when the time is right,” Lanter said of Home Team, which is traditionally open year-round. “And in the meantime, we’re just trying to take care of our employees as much as possible.”

Cache Cache is a different animal, he said, because the staff is accustomed to closing for two months twice a year. Still, unexpectedly losing a hugely profitable portion of winter — and now the start of summer — hurts.

Aspen restaurant and nightclub owner Andrew Sandler estimates that the six-week loss from early March to mid-April will account for about $450,000 in gross revenue between his two businesses, Scarlett’s and Bootsy Bellows. He pointed to the loss of corporate events, birthdays and private parties, and also bottle-service reservations.

“Aspen is usually immune to the macroeconomy, but from the crash of ’08 to what’s happening now, we’re certainly not immune anymore,” Sandler said. “The whole world is on fire, so we’re in this collectively.”

While Sandler remains optimistic that life will resume sooner than later, he is already feeling the financial impact of an Aspen summer sans Food & Wine.

“When Food & Wine canceled, we had a bunch of wedding parties that canceled. All of our events have been canceled through June,” Sandler said Wednesday. He quantified the loss over the four-day festival in the amount of roughly $150,000 in gross revenue. “It’s a complete domino effect,” he said.

That trickle-down effect extends to some of Aspen’s more casual joints.

While Ryno’s Pub & Pizzeria does not rely on the business of Food & Wine and Ideas Festival passholders per se, the loss of these Aspen summer staples will still impact the restaurant and bar’s bottom line.  

“My customer, my bread and butter, is the person who serves the person with the Food & Wine pass, who works in the higher-end restaurants and hotels,” said Ryno’s owner Ryan Sweeney. “And if they’re not making money, they’re not spending money. And I see that both ways.”

Sweeney, who also owns Silver City Saloon, said he is determining how to best scale back expenses and adjust to losses while taking care of his employees. 

One critical piece of the puzzle that remained unanswered among many restaurateurs as of Thursday evening — less than one week before rent is due at the first of the month — is how commercial property owners and landlords will respond to the situation. 

“All of the restaurateurs and bar owners are experiencing the same problems,” Sandler said. “How are we going to pay rent? Are we going to pay rent?” 

Erica Robbie is the editor-in-chief of Local Magazine and Local Weekly as well as the arts & culture editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at erica@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @ericarobbie.