Bob’s Place celebrates 30th season in Avon |

Bob’s Place celebrates 30th season in Avon

Bob's Place Restaurant & Sports Bar is known for its atmosphere, with pool tables, darts and foosball.
Rachael Zimmerman/Vail Daily archive

In 1970, Bob Doyle moved to Denver from New York, where he was studying engineering at West Point, to follow his passion for the restaurant business. After seven years of managing seven sub sandwich shops in Denver, he moved to West Vail, where developers had just built a new West Vail Mall, to open The Menu.

“He wanted to get out of the city and move to the mountains,” said his son, Chris Doyle, who now owns and operates his dad’s third restaurant, Bob’s Place, which is celebrating its 30th winter season in business.

Back then, Vail Pass was still one lane in both directions, and the second hole of the tunnel had yet to be bored; one tunnel accommodated both directions of traffic.

“Vail was extremely seasonal then,” Doyle said. “The off-season was desolate; most locals left town to go on vacation. It really was a tough business time because there wasn’t a lot happening.”

Yet, even in an age where chains like Subway and Quiznos hadn’t emerged and the idea of New York-style deli sandwiches wasn’t a familiar concept in Colorado, locals loved The Menu. It offered affordable breakfasts, 25 different sub sandwiches, 25 different New York-style deli sandwiches and soups. The Menu attracted plenty of locals and tourists, and in no time, the restaurant extended its hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., to offer sandwiches at dinner, as well.

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“The Menu was well ahead of its time,” said Chris Doyle. “It was successful in its own right, but the seasonality of the valley made it difficult.”

By 1990, Bob Doyle partnered with a couple of other local restauranters and opened the Jackalope, which revolved around Southwest fare (think fajitas) that had become all the rage at the time. They also added a sports bar to support the emerging late-night scene. The Jackalope opened for breakfast at 7 a.m. and didn’t close until 2 a.m.

“The valley had grown and Southwestern and Mexican cuisine was needed and desired, so it was a better option,” Chris Doyle said.

Two years later, a space opened in Avon, right next to where the old Walmart had been (where Sun & Ski Sports presently sits), so Bob Doyle decided to part ways with his partners and open Bob’s Place. It incorporated the sandwiches and breakfast items of The Menu and the Southwestern flair of The Jackalope, while also introducing a sports bar.

Infused vodka with onions, peppers, pickles, pepperoncini and homemade bloody Mary mix, with a hearty skewer at Bob’s Place in Avon.
Barry Eckhaus/Special to the Daily

In 2000, developers tore down the building to construct Chapel Square, so Bob’s Place moved to its current location, on the west side of Avon. At the time, plans for the Westin, Wyndham and Sheridan were taking shape, so the Doyle’s hoped those would all draw customers.

Second-generation ownership

Throughout the decades, Chris Doyle was seeped in the restaurant industry and picked up what he calls common-sense practices — acts as simple as picking up a small piece of paper on the dining room floor or clearing plates as soon as customers finish — intuitively.

“I was around the business enough at a young age that a lot of it became an education that you don’t even know you’re getting,” he said.

By age 14, he cooked on the line and could run anything from hosting to waiting tables in the front of the house at The Menu. He worked there through high school, and then, from age 18-30, he put all his time and energy into mountain bike racing. He trained in Columbia for four years, then spent a couple years racing for the U.S. team and competed in the Mountain Bike World Cup. After retiring from cycling, he briefly worked in the ski industry, but he found that, like his dad, he had a passion for the restaurant industry.

“I wanted to be more involved and grow the business in the direction of the future,” he said.

So, he returned to Bob’s Place (at its current location) and enhanced items like the wings, with 15 different sauces listed in order of spiciness, from inferno to parmesan peppercorn, and introduced plasma televisions into the sports bar.

“I had a younger, newer vision of where to go with the business,” he said. “My vision (included) moving with technology and the computer age evolution, and marketing.”

About 25 years ago, when Bob’s Place introduced plasma televisions into its sports bar, one plasma television cost around $7,000, and in mountain homes, they made buzzing noises, which ultimately slowed sales. So, Chris Doyle made a deal with Pioneer, which had created plasma televisions that didn’t buzz at high elevation. Pioneer gave Bob’s Place a price break on six plasma televisions, with the idea that the sports bar would be a “showroom” for these non-buzzing plasma televisions.

“It separated us from other locations with the new generation of flatscreens,” he said. “The next year, we bought six more, and it helped us move into the future.”

Shrimp, steak and chicken with grilled green peppers, onions, pico de gallo on a sizzling cast-iron platter at Bob’s Place.
Barry Eckhaus/Special to the Daily

He also consulted scientific research on how the eye reads a group of televisions; when placed in certain banks, the eye can follow multiple games in a line, so they installed the televisions accordingly. Now, people can sit anywhere in the sports bar and watch multiple games on a total of 25 huge screens. Bob’s Place carries every commercial sports package available, hence the motto: We’ve got your game.

“If we don’t have it, then nobody is going to have it,” he said, adding that “there are no bad seats.”

Chris Doyle married his wife, Caron, in 2005, and together, they manage Bob’s Place. While some couples struggle to work together, they thrive. Caron takes care of private events, menu entry items and liquor; she also bartends and is responsible for items on the menu with a Southern flair, like fried green tomatoes and fried pickles.

A successful business model

As a result of The Menu, The Jackalope, Caron and other influences, Bob’s Place’s menu is incredibly extensive. The most diverse group, from discriminating diners to sports lovers, can find plenty of options to please.

The Doyle’s also have been able to maintain a reasonable — and relatively low — price point. In a valley bursting with $20+ burgers, a plain Bob is $14.50, and a plain Jane chicken sandwich (with pepper jack cheese, so not so plain) is $13.

“We always give the best value and service for locals and visitors,” Chris Doyle said. “Our menu and our price point appeal to anyone, from local and seasonal workers to a family staying at a high-end hotel like the Ritz.”

While many businesses have struggled with filling positions after the pandemic, Bob’s Place maintained their employees through the pandemic and beyond.

“We create a culture that our guests feel like they’re part of a family and our employees feel like they’re part of a family,” he said. “A lot of it is the relationship that you create in the business that goes beyond just business. There’s a genuine interest in their lives and what they have going on. We try to do a lot in times of need, like medical or personal issues — we’re always willing to help and support them. A lot of employees have a long tenure of employment, and they feel like family. They have a sense of ownership of the business. That’s how I was treated in my family, and that’s how I treat employees.”

He learned this from his dad, whose “customer service skills have always been exceptional,” Chris Doyle said. “He just has a likable personality; he’s able to solve problems very easily, and he’s able to create a relationship with guests very easily and quickly.”

All of this translates into the overall welcoming vibe, with laid-back, warm guest experiences. Regulars like Sheika Gramshammer Jr. and her husband, Dan, love the atmosphere, the food and the staff, whom she said has befriended them, and vice versa.

“They have the best breakfast; we love the different options of breakfast they have there,” she said, adding that eating at Bob’s Place or hanging out in the sports bar is a spectacular way to be part of old Vail and its history. “It’s a great place for people to get together. It’s a fun, interactive place where you get to meet people and get to know people that frequent there. It’s almost like a ‘Cheers’ kind of thing.”

Though Bob’s Place suffered from the pandemic just like any other business, it didn’t have a labor shortage upon opening, and Chris Doyle is grateful things have returned to normal and he can attend to “managing the business instead of people’s behavior (like masks and social distancing).”

He has gained an understanding of numbers and profitability percentages from his dad, who is still involved in the business, mostly in the bookkeeping end. Bob Doyle spends most of the winter in Mexico but visits Bob’s Place to check in on things every three to four weeks.

Operating Bob’s Place for so many years has led Chris Doyle to grow, both personally and professionally. Before, he’d let problems frustrate him, but now he looks at them as “a challenge to overcome and find a solution to,” he said. “I’ve gotten better at problem-solving, rather than getting frustrated over problems. I also have a solid staff to rely on for reoccurring issues.”

His next goal for Bob’s Place includes expanding the current 80-seat garden patio into indoor/outdoor use during the winter, as opposed to just summer. He’s also looking to add new dishes to the menu and bring back favorites like fried chicken. In fact, he has ordered a new machine to make fried chicken, but supply chain issues are delaying shipment, so he’s not sure exactly when the item will be back on the menu.

What he is sure of is: “The times may change, but we promise to keep the spirit true to Bob as we evolve … We feel very fortunate that we’ve been here for 45+ years, and we appreciate the support that we’ve had from the community, and we hope to be here another 45 years to give back as well.”

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