Rio Grande closing its doors in Frisco; Outer Range to take over the space
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of restaurant manager Rob Trenz’s name as well as the amount of time the restaurant has been open in Frisco.
FRISCO — Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Frisco will close its doors Sunday, Oct. 13, because the restaurant is financially unsustainable, according to restaurant manager Rob Trenz.
The chain restaurant, which started in Fort Collins and made its way across the Front Range, opened up shop in Frisco five years ago, bringing its Tex-Mex fajitas, margaritas and black beans to the High Country.
Rio also closed a location in Steamboat Springs in 2015 because of difficulty operating far from its headquarters in Fort Collins. After the Frisco location closes, all existing Rio restaurants will be on the Front Range.
Restaurant manager Rob Trenz said the competitive pay needed to keep good cooks and the loss of revenue during shoulder seasons mean the restaurant is no longer viable. He also said the space was too large.
Trenz said the restaurant has been losing money for a while, and the management team was presented with the opportunity to get out of the building lease when Outer Range, the brewery next door, offered to take over the space in order to expand.
“It’s really too bad because just in the last couple of weeks people are finding out and people like it here. We’ve got a good crew now,” Trenz said.
Trenz said it wasn’t always this way. The management team wasn’t prepared for the employment costs of Summit County, and it didn’t offer high enough pay to stay competitive, he said.
“We weren’t competitive enough at first,” Trenz said. “We operated sloppily at times because we didn’t have a great kitchen. It’s worth it for us to pay absurdly high kitchen labor.”
Paying high wages might have helped Rio keep a quality kitchen team, but in the end, there wasn’t enough income to keep the restaurant going.
“That’s the worst part really, is we no longer get to employ a lot of great people,” Trenz said.
Outer Range Brewing Co., the brewery that will be taking over the space after the restaurant moves out, plans to expand. Emily Cleghorn — co-owner of the brewery along with her husband, Lee — said the vision for the brewery was to be a hang-out spot for locals and visitors to gather and recount their day. The issue has been space, and 2,400 square feet isn’t cutting it anymore, she said.
“It gets really tight in there. Trying to fit a taproom and production in 2,400 square feet gets really challenging,” Cleghorn said. “Being able to expand into the other space will allow us to separate the taproom from the production area.”
With the additional 5,400 square feet, the Cleghorns want to introduce a few new features to the brewery. Outer Range is receiving consultation from Chris Schmidt, chef and owner of Craftsman in Edwards, as they dip their toes into the food side of things. Schmidt will be hiring a chef to run Outer Range’s new counter-service Thai fried chicken restaurant.
“Think of the national hot chicken craze,” Cleghorn said.
Outer Range is also partnering with Breckenridge’s Mountain Dweller Coffee Roasters, which will be serving its coffee in the brewery.
“There are very few spaces this size in Summit County where people can gather, so if we can have a coffee shop, as well, for people to enjoy in the morning, that’s really exciting to us,” Cleghorn said.
Outer Range will talk more about the expansion at its annual Snow Stoke party from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5. The party will “celebrate the return of snow in Summit County,” according to the brewery’s Facebook event, and new beers will be released.
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