Opinion | Susan Knopf: Say it ain’t so

My husband read the Facebook post aloud. The Pierce family is announcing the permanent closure of the Arapahoe Café and Pub in Dillon.

My memories of the Arapahoe Café go back before the Pierce family owned it, and it was known as the Tappan House. It was a restaurant I could walk to from my aunt’s condo at Dillon Pines. I was a freshman in college, just 18 years old. It was 1974. The curtains were white cotton eyelet. I had a table alongside the front-facing windows. The snow fell lightly, like fairy dust. I was from Southern California, and a newly minted skier. I was in love with all of it: the snow, the smell of food wafting on the frigid air.

The Café’s log building was originally located in the old town of Dillon, which is now beneath the surface of the Dillon Reservoir. The building was dismantled, moved and rebuilt in its current location. It’s not considered a historic landmark, according to Doug Pierce, because there’s an addition at the rear.

In 1986, my in-laws bought a Keystone condo, and again the Arapahoe Café became a part of so many beloved family vacations. According to Mountain Town Magazine, about that time Doug Pierce was still working for Keystone, climbing the ladder to become the resort’s executive chef, and finally food and beverage director.

According to the article, a corporate reshuffle forced Doug out, he then took over Arapahoe Café and the rest is the stuff of legend. In 2015, he became a People’s Choice Winner at the Frisco Barbecue Challenge. You can still get his awesome ribs at the Arapahoe Café until Oct. 15. 

The café isn’t just about meat. My favorite entrée is the Rocky Mountain trout on a bed of spinach, with the most amazing oversized cornbread cake. There’s the daily specials, soups and pork green chili.

When I think about Oct. 15 I have to hold back the tears.

Why is this happening? There are changes afoot in the Dillon town core. No one seems to know exactly what is going on there. According to the Summit Daily News, on May 2 the Dillon Town Council approved the Triveni Metro District to pay for infrastructure changes. Some observers say it seemed like the cart before the horse. The Summit Daily reported developer Jake Porritt said bank financing for the “ginormous” proposed town core project could not be arranged without a metropolitan taxing district.

Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said the biggest issue she sees is the zoning. She said if Porritt wants to increase density at the Best Western site, he has to apply for rezoning.

According to Dillon government officials the project is still considered speculative. As I hear on the grapevine, the developer hasn’t formally presented the final project. It appears there are no architectural drawings yet. As one business owner told me, that would mean they’re two years from breaking ground.

So why are the Best Western owners refusing to renew the lease for the Arapahoe Café? If you have ever tried to go out to eat during one of our busy tourist weeks, you know we need more restaurants, not less. And what are Best Western visitors going to do?

A local business owner asked me if A-Café (as we affectionately call it) would be selling. Sell what? To whom? Who else would take the risk of securing business permits and run a restaurant with a 60-day notice lease?

For Doug Pierce and his family, no lease means they need to shut down. He told me his licenses and permits run on an annual basis. He needs a lease to justify those business expenses. Most importantly, as the Pierce family stated on Facebook, “This is the fair thing to do as it allows our employees time to secure future employment…”

Mayor Skowyra is not giving up. She told me, “I can’t imagine Dillon without the Arapahoe Café.” She said, “We’re doing everything we can to help them find a space, to preserve that town amenity.”

Doug Pierce wrote me a text and said he’s had a great run, 22 years of “great memories, and outstanding customers and employees!” He said he and his family “look forward to our future whatever that may be!” He added we “love you all!”

We love you Doug, Julie, Bonnie and Noah. For the record, I think we’ll miss you more than you’ll miss us!

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.