Restaurants clearing the air: Two more local eateries – the Blue Spruce and Mrs. E and Me – |

Restaurants clearing the air: Two more local eateries – the Blue Spruce and Mrs. E and Me –

SUMMIT COUNTY – While some restaurant owners fear they will lose business if they ban smoking in their establishments, two local restaurants – the Blue Spruce in Frisco and Mrs. E and Me in Breckenridge – have made the decision to go smoke-free.

When the staff at the Blue Spruce in Frisco made its dining room smoke-free about 15 years ago, the decision didn’t revolve around the contentious smoking issue, said Meade Parks, restaurant manager. Rather, the dining area just wasn’t big enough for both a smoking and a nonsmoking section.

Although there is no smoking in the dining room, Parks said he believes the restaurant still loses potential clientele because it allows smoking in the saloon.

The management and staff at the Blue Spruce have been batting around the idea to go smoke-free for several months now, said Travis Holton, who owns the Blue Spruce and Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse Brewery in Dillon with his wife, Annie.

“The opinion’s slowly changed,” he said. “More and more, I feel that the dining experience can be diminished by smoke anywhere in the building.”

The Blue Spruce will pull its ashtrays and become a solely nonsmoking establishment on June 15.

“None of it’s really because of an impending decision by government,” Holton said. “It’s more of a decision based on what’s best for us, our employees and our customers.”

Though the decision was made primarily with the health of staff and employees in mind, Parks said a little bit of it is tied to SmokeFree Summit, a coalition seeking to abolish public smoking in the county.

“We feel that we want to make the decision on our own … rather than be told to do it,” he said.

“We understand it’s going to impact negatively some of our customers,” Holton said. “There probably will be some that will be mad or disappointed that they can’t smoke in our establishment, but I hope they understand it’s nothing personal. We’re just trying to create an overall image and product that enhances the quality of our food and drink and the overall experience.”

Parks said his theory is that while nonsmokers often won’t patronize an establishment that allows smoking, smokers still can enjoy themselves at a nonsmoking restaurant. In fact, a number of smokers ask to eat their dinners in the nonsmoking dining room because they don’t like to eat where there’s smoke, he said.

Larry Ellingson, who owns Mrs. E and Me with his wife, Karen, agrees. A number of his smoking customers prefer to eat in their nonsmoking area.

The Ellingsons discussed making the restaurant smoke-free when it opened in November but decided that might be a little too risky without knowing the clientele. Like the Blue Spruce management, they chose to allow smoking in the bar but not in the dining room.

Over the months, the Ellingsons have polled their customers – about the food, the service and smoking. In particular, they quizzed their smoking clientele to determine whether they would lose business if they decided to ban smoking.

“Not one of them said, “Oh, I’ll never come back here,'” Larry Ellingson said. “Every one of them said they come here for the food and atmosphere, not to smoke.”

The Ellingsons took a week off and closed their doors last week. They reopened Tuesday smoke-free.

Although the restaurant hasn’t been smoke-free for long (one night, as of press time), Larry Ellingson said the staff hasn’t had any complaints or problems about the decision.

“Everybody was happy – they knew it was coming,” he said.

The staffs at both restaurants are particularly pleased with the decision to eliminate smoking, Parks and Ellingson said.

“We thought it was going to be a tough choice, but it was actually a really easy choice,” Ellingson said. “Once we committed to it, it made perfect sense – it was clear as a bell.”

Holton said he doesn’t know yet whether Pug Ryan’s will also follow suit, but it’s possible.

“The Blue Spruce is something we’re committed to,” Holton said. As for Pug Ryan’s, Holton said he would “study the Blue Spruce model and make a decision later this year, possibly this fall.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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