Routt County's Three Wire Bar & Grill on pace to lose at least $100K

Employee Karleen Booco cleans off tables at Three Wire Bar & Grill at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Thursday afternoon. The restaurant, which is run by the county, was created during the last phase of improvements and  has been operating at a loss during its first year.

— Routt County officials confirmed Thursday that Three Wire Bar & Grill at Yampa Valley Regional Airport stands to lose in the neighborhood of $150,000 by the end of its first year in the newly remodeled airport terminal.

County Finance Director Dan Strnad said that following last ski season, his office projected the restaurant would gross $508,000 against combined personnel and operational costs of about $707,000 ($372,000 for personnel and $335,000 for operating costs). That would yield a loss of about $200,000.

Airport manager Dave Ruppel said Thursday that he expects the net operating loss will be much lower.

“I think it will be less than $150,000,” Ruppel said. “We’ve out performed projections every month since we first put that information into the system. We’re doing pretty well.”

Assistant Airport Manager Dean Smith, who oversees Three Wire, said that since the end of last ski season, he has achieved savings by adjusting staffing and the hours the restaurant is open as well as tailoring food purchases to off-season business.

Three Wire continued to serve freshly prepared meals throughout the summer and fall in addition to grab-and-go sandwiches, he added.

Smith said that the first year of operation included one-time start-up costs that affected the bottom line.

The new county-owned restaurant at the airport has two distinct seasons: ski season and every other time of the year. In January, February and March, it did more than $100,000 in business each month. Still, Ruppel told the Routt County Board of Commissioners in May that Three Wire had lost $30,000 last ski season. Since March, the monthly gross has been $10,000 to $14,000. Smith said revenue has been augmented somewhat by a variety of catering jobs in the Hayden area including meals for the nearby Hayden Station power plant.

The commissioners resolved last year to open the restaurant space under county ownership after the 50 requests for proposals sent out to prospective private sector operators failed to generate any serious interest. The commissioners decided that offering consistently appealing food was an essential service at the airport.

Wherever the bottom line ends up, any shortfall will not come out of the county general fund; Yampa Valley Regional Airport is self-sustaining.

“Last year, we over hired because we didn’t know what to expect,” Smith said. “Yes, we want the restaurant to be successful, absolutely. But it’s going to take time. It takes a good year to get everything under control.

“Everyone here last winter did a marvelous, marvelous job,” Smith said.

Manager Tami Fricault and Assistant Manager Jennifer DuBois staffed Three Wire over the summer, filling multiple roles. During the summer and fall, the restaurant got by with a cook, one of the managers and a counter attendant, Smith said. Fricault and DuBois will be at Three Wire for the winter, Smith said.

Told that Smith said year-to-date revenue is about $400,000, Strnad said, “That sounds about right.“

“We’ve served 41,000 customers from Jan. 1 to date,” Smith said. “Our best month was February, with $120,000” in gross revenue.

Ski season begins Wednesday, but the winter schedule of direct air service doesn’t begin in earnest until Dec. 13, when daily flights from Chicago and Dallas begin, to be followed later that week by an increased schedule from Denver as well as flights from Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Newark.

That suggests a busy December holiday period would be necessary to reach revenue projections for the year.

Along with the broader business community, county officials will look for a rebound in snowfall patterns and more vacationers arriving at the airport this winter to help their fledgling airport restaurant come closer to breaking even.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

Community comments

Note: The Steamboat Pilot & Today doesn’t necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy.

(John St Pierre) fishcreek says...

Did I read this right the county is competing with private enterprise with outside catering???????

"yampa valley airport is self sustaing"??? How is that????

Posted 15 November 2012, 7:36 p.m. Suggest removal

(John Weibel) jweibel says...

--Wherever the bottom line ends up, any shortfall will not come out of the county general fund; Yampa Valley Regional Airport is self-sustaining.--

Yes they charge landing fees, rent for rental companies, etc. to become self sustaining. Though any profit would have bolstered the county general fund and the loss takes away from what the county had earned the previous year.

This would have been a great topic of discussion for the election. Oh well, the same story is to be told in the future, more government even at the county level. They know best, we should just sit back and watch the economy recover while their codes are thought out to cover all circumstances and just might go above and beyond in many circumstances.

Managing their own restaurant, in direct competition with local private enterprise struggling to make ends meet. I suppose if the county runs short on revenue it can ask the airport to increase fees to bring in more revenue, Steamboat Springs voters will approve more taxes for the airlines to fly in here.

Posted 15 November 2012, 8:29 p.m. Suggest removal

(rhys jones) highwaystar says...

Are the shirts on the wall for sale, or is that atmosphere? Either way, that's class!!

Posted 15 November 2012, 9:15 p.m. Suggest removal

(Scott Wedel) Scott_Wedel says...

As has been argued many times on these forums, it makes no sense for county to be managing this restaurant. Just because they cannot get someone to pay rent does not mean county must operate it.

Since they accept losing $100,000 a year then they could save a $50K a year by offering to PAY an operator $4,000 a month. They've decided that this is an essential service that costs them money. So be it.

By why not simply bid out these services? Something like $2K a month plus $5 per hour opened would save the county a chunk of money and would let someone run a business. County could add clauses that if it isn't cleaned then it will be cleaned that night by airport cleaning crew and that will be deducted from county's payment. Not that hard to manage that sort of contract.

The one thing that should be abundantly clear is that a county managed restaurant is not going to be run as effectively as a competent private operator.

Posted 16 November 2012, 10:32 a.m. Suggest removal

Post a comment (Requires free registration)

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.