Snake River Saloon in Keystone carries longtime owner into Foodservice Hall of Fame

Jim Shields, longtime owner of the Snake River Saloon and Steakhouse was inducted into the Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame at the 2017 Industry Spotlight Awards on June 27 at the Hanger at Stanley Marketplace in the old Stapleton Airport.
Hugh Carey / |

He didn’t get there quickly, but after 42 years of putting his livelihood on the Snake, it’s finally carried Jim Shields into the Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame.

Longtime owner of the Snake River Saloon and Steakhouse in Keystone with his wife Jane, Jim Shields accepted his place among some of Colorado’s longest serving and most respected restaurateurs, chefs and foodservice workers on June 27 at the 2017 Industry Spotlight Awards. The banquet was hosted by the Colorado Restaurant Association and put on at the Hanger at Stanely Marketplace in the old Stapleton Airport.

With his induction, Shields joins John Daisy, owner of Fatty’s Pizzeria in Breckenridge, and a good friend, Bob Starekow, just to name two of the locals who’ve been honored in years past.

“I’m very proud of it,” Shields said of being inducted. “When I first heard about it, I was wondering if I have time to do it.”

“Ultimately, I can’t meet with every customer, so the image that your workers project is what people perceive your business to be.”Jim ShieldsOwner, Snake River saloon and Steakhouse

He’s since “become comfortable with the thought of it,” and reflecting on the award, Shields sees it as “a tribute to the people we surround ourselves with” more than anything else.

If any one thing got Shields into the hall, it’s longevity. Also, according to Shields, there is no substitute for surrounding oneself with a strong core of good staff.

“Ultimately, I can’t meet with every customer, so the image that your workers project is what people perceive your business to be,” Shields said, adding that’s why he tries to “never strong arm” employees and cares about their lives outside of work.

“On a busy night, when you go to battle,” he said, “you want to go to battle with people who have been there.”

The origins of the Snake date back to 1954, when Duke and Lucile Smith started what was known as “the Loveland Pass Bar.” It would operate under that name until a change of ownership 20 years later came with a change in name that endures today.

Meanwhile, Shields was born in Chicago, moved to Minneapolis at age 15 and later graduated from University of Minnesota. After college, he decided to move out West with “some buddies to go skiing.” He landed in the Keystone area, and has been here ever since.

At first, Shields dug ditches and drove cement trucks, as he worked on a mine for about year, to make ends meet. As fate would have it, he soon landed a job at the Snake, as a bartender. That was in 1975, and Shields still remembers the “perfectionist” who hired him, Mickey Smith, and would later sell a small stake in the business to Shields and Starekow.

Coincidentally, in addition to Shields’ friends and family, Starekow and Smith both attended the indication ceremony last week for Shields.

When Shields bought into the business, he understood at the time that would mean taking some risks, and the restaurant and bar has undergone some changes since then.

The first came in 1978, when they remodeled, adding a dance floor and a stage, so they could begin offering live music in addition to a menu with high-dollar items like steak and seafood. As time went by, Jim and Jane Shields would marry and they bought up more and more of the business. In 2006, their oldest partners decided it was time to sell, and the “dominos fell (their) way.”

“It became Jane and I, and the bank,” Shields said.

Sole owner of the business with his wife for the last 11 years, Shields said the key to staying in business so long was diversifying.

With the saloon right of the main entrance and the restaurant to the left, Shields knows that some of his customers only go right while others stay left, and for the owner, that’s OK.

“What we decided we had to do was become not just a restaurant, but a restaurant and a night club to generate enough income to take care of our people,” Shields said.

Shields handles all the hiring and booking the bands. A throwback, he likes to work with a handshake and over the phone, forming relationships that are “built on honor and trust.”

In the end, Shields said, he and his staff try to thank the people who help keep them in business every time they come in. The way he describes the Snake, “It’s about creating an experience that memories are made of,” and Shields thinks anyone who patronizes his establishment should leave feeling “something special.” On the way out the door, he said, they always try to tell everyone “thank you” and “get home safe.”

And that’s how Shields ended his remarks as he accepted his place in the Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame. After thanking his family, friends and, of course, his staff, he told everyone at the awards ceremony to get home safe.

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