Summit County restaurateurs sell the sizzle

Daily file photo

Summit County is a place of potential. For tourists seeking a fun vacation, for skiing and outdoor enthusiasts seeking snowy slopes and beautiful trails, for people looking to live in a scenic, small town area, opportunities abound. Many entrepreneurs have found their place in the county as well and there will certainly be more to come, particularly in light of the results from a recent Nielsen survey.

According to the yearly survey, in 2013 the area of Summit County — marked in the report as “Silverthorne” with 189 restaurants — ranked 25th in the nation as one of the best places to open a restaurant. The survey also assigned each town a Restaurant Growth Index (RGI) number, assessed for both metro and micro areas, with populations of 50,000 or more, or 10,000 to 50,000, respectively. The ranking is calculated on an area’s total restaurant sales and sales as a percent of per capita income, compared to the nation as a whole.

While the national is 100 RGI, the Summit County area garnered a rating of 238, making it not only the highest for the state of Colorado, but securing it the 25th spot overall. Its closest competition in Colorado is the area labeled “Edwards,” with 302 establishments, an RGI value of 205 and a national rank of 41.

Location and opportunity

According to the report, vacation destinations and areas of high through traffic often rate very highly for RGI. With the towns of Silverthorne, Dillon and Frisco right on the Interstate 70 corridor, Summit County hits a lot of the right notes.

“Obviously, this section of the corridor and right over the pass are hot, and that turns with everything we know about where the destination visitor comes,” said Susan Fairweather, director of economic development, marketing and communications for the town of Dillon.

“I’m really excited about that possibility for our region,” she added. “It makes perfect sense to me, as a matter of fact.”

Kelsey Lyons, owner of the Which Wich? sandwich shop in Silverthorne, said that she believes her business has seen the benefits of its location, referring not only to the nearby interstate but the people within the town.

“That (ranking) doesn’t surprise me, because I think, as small business owners, as soon as locals know that, they support us extremely well,” she said. “Any locally owned restaurant is going to do well with the great locals you have here. And the tourist traffic doesn’t hurt.”

Lyons said that having another restaurant nearby, the chain Chipotle’s, has actually helped rather than hurt her business.

“It just creates more foot traffic. More people get over here and (have) more awareness of our brand.”

Although having just opened up in February, Lyons said that business has gone well this winter season.

“It was really fabulous, we were busy the whole time. Even now, we’ve started to pick up in mud season again. It’s nice,” she said.

Look before the leap

George Tousey, who owns Deli Belly in Frisco alongside his wife Lisa, said that while the high RGI rating is “a nice compliment,” the information shouldn’t necessarily act as an automatic green light for new restaurants.

“To be honest, I think Frisco is pretty saturated right now with restaurants. I think there are too many restaurants, actually. The piece of the pie is getting pretty small for each of our independent businesses,” he said.

That said, business is getting on steadily for Deli Belly, which is into its 18th year. The Touseys also run the nearby Breakfast Deli, a small establishment just down the block. Being right on Main Street has been great, Tousey said, as well as the support of a loyal local following.

“I think there’s always potential, it’s a great town, (but) there’s only so much business that you can get,” Tousey added. “We have a great location, we have a great landlord and great situation here for sure, but I think it’d be really difficult to open up a place in Frisco now, with the amount of competition that exists.”

While location is an important consideration in starting up a business, it shouldn’t be the only consideration, according to Corry Mihm, executive director of the Summit Independent Business Alliance (SIBA).

“I think it should be taken with a grain of salt,” she said of the high RGI rating. “The seasonality issue is one that is definitely something that has to be dealt with in a business plan regardless of what the index says, so while yes, there are opportunities, I think it’s still important to do one’s homework and understand the unique business nature of having something up here, with the seasonality and the ebb and flow of tourists and the labor force, making sure that a plan’s developed that still encompasses all the things that you need to be successful. Just because an index says it’s right for success, there still needs to be a very well-thought-out plan for a business to be successful.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.