VAIL — After 40 years and several name and location changes, the Blu Cow Cafe, otherwise known as Swiss Hot Dog, has returned to the village.
In the ’60s, a young immigrant named Ernst Larese, fresh off his travels throughout Europe and Australia, brought the Blu Cow to Vail in the location that would go on to be known as the Tyrolean building (it’s now condos) near the Vail parking structure. More than 40 years later, his customers still can’t get the delicious taste of veal and curry out of their heads.
In the ’70s, Ernst Larese relocated to a parking lot across from the Sonnenalp.
“I worked there when I was like 7,” his daughter, Simone Larese recalls. “I would ring people in and then walk away without taking their money.”
After a brief stint at Beaver Creek, where the Coyote Cafe is now located, Ernst Larese moved to Lionshead village, in the location where the Burton store is currently located, where he would keep his Swiss Hot Dog shop for the next 17 years.
That building was eventually torn down, and Ernst Larese moved to Traer Creek in Avon, where he would stay for nearly a decade. In that time, he taught the business to Simone Larese, while he still worked hard into his 80s. Now at 83 years old, Ernst Larese was still in his shop serving dogs until last July. But he had a bad fall, says Simone Larese, and he’s now confined to a wheelchair and unable to keep working.
“We thought we were going to lose him,” said Simone Larese. “But after some time in the hospital he perked back up like a plant that needed water.”
YEARS IN THE MAKING
While Ernst Larese won’t be spending much time in the new shop, he says he’s happy to see his daughter carrying on the business and bringing it back to Vail.
“I’ve been working to get it back in Vail for over two years,” said Simone.
Through her time spent ski racing as a young woman, Simone Larese got to know ski racer and restaurant architect Griz Dwight, who helped design the new shop.
“We’re really lucky to have such a renowned restaurant architect help us with the place. It turned out amazing,” Simone said.
With 40 cowbells adorning the walls, electric blue seating and classic artifacts from Ernst’s legacy, the shop — which is located near Seibert Circle in Vail Village next to the Shakedown Bar — harkens back to the early days of Vail. But it’s modern as well — a long bar and seating area, along with late-night hours, make it a social gathering ground in the village.
“I used to look forward to any trip I had to make to Home Depot, because that meant I was stopping for a Swiss Hot Dog,” said East Vail resident John Trippe Duke, who enjoyed a beer and a Swiss dog after a Vail Hot Summer Nights concert recently. “Now, this is going to be my new hangout place in Vail.”
APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR
Ernst Larese says his daughter Simone Larese is well prepared to carry his torch.
“She’s the smart one,” he said.
His wife and Simone’s mother, Barbara Larese, says it’s nice to see Simone showing such dedication to something her and Ernst worked so hard to create.
“She’s put so much time and effort into getting the business back to Vail. We’re very pleased with the way it turned out.”
Ernst Larese is still as feisty as ever. The old man who once kicked a customer out of his shop for attempting to pay for a dog with waterlogged bills wishes he could walk back through the doors of Simone Larese’s shop to thank that same customer for following his business around the valley.
But most of all, says Simone Larese, Ernst wants one thing.
“He wants to work here,” she said from her new shop. “He just wants to come wash dishes and cook dogs and interact with the customers again. It was his livelihood for half of his life, so it’s hard for him to watch it from a distance now.”
When you visit the Blu Cow, ask Simone to show you the old pictures of Ernst and Barbara Larese from the early days of Vail, and then look for that same smile in her.
But keep in mind that Simone Larese doesn’t have much tolerance for wet bills, either.