‘End of an era:’ Moe’s Original BBQ closes Lionshead location, its first storefront prior to expansion | VailDaily.com

‘End of an era:’ Moe’s Original BBQ closes Lionshead location, its first storefront prior to expansion

Owners say original storefront location of barbecue franchise that's now in 16 states had become too difficult to maintain

Crowds gather at Moe's Original BBQ in Lionshead on its final day of operation on Saturday.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Barbecue lovers celebrated the end of an era on Saturday as Moe’s Original BBQ threw a closing party at its Concert Hall Plaza location in Lionshead for its final day of operation.

Enjoying the celebration with their patrons, owners Jeff Kennedy and Ben Gilbert said the Lionhsead location had become too difficult to maintain in recent years. The Lionshead location was the first storefront for Moe’s Original BBQ before the operation expanded to franchises in 16 states.

“We’re really trying to focus on 50 restaurants, but we keep getting sucked into one, Kennedy said of the Lionshead location. “It’s just not working for us right now.”

It’s a sign of the times for the local business community in Vail, Gilbert said, but the problems Moe’s has encountered in maintaining staffing levels is not unique to Vail, he added.

“It’s all resort towns, whether it be at a beach town or a mountain town, there’s no housing,” Gilbert said. “And therefore it translates into no employees.”

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Crawfish was served at Moe’s Original BBQ in Lionshead on its final day of operation on Saturday.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Moe’s holds an end-of-season crawfish boil every year as a way to get the community together and celebrate the conclusion of another ski season. This year’s crawfish boil marked the Lionshead location’s final day of business, adding extra significance to the event.

“We do this every year, but I’d say this one is our celebration of life,” Kennedy said. “Not a funeral, but a celebration.”

A long line formed on the staircase leading up to the restaurant’s entryway, and crowds gathered inside to enjoy live music and food. The smell of crawfish and cloves permeated the area.

Local musician Jake Wolf attended and said he remembered when Moe’s opened, and how excited he was to see a locally-owned barbecue restaurant open in Vail. Around the time Moe’s was opening, the Sundance Saloon — which opened in 1981 — was closing in Lionshead. Wolf said the closing of Moe’s had him reminiscing on the closing of the Sundance.

“It’s another end-of-an-era moment in Lionshead,” Wolf said. “We’ve had a few of these in the last couple decades.”

Crowds in Lionshead on Saturday enjoyed live music at Moe’s Original BBQ for its final day of operation.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Kennedy said he couldn’t remember exactly when the Lionshead location opened — if it was 2005 or 2006. The Sundance closed in 2005.

While Kennedy and Gilbert consider Lionshead to be their first storefront, Moe’s actually had another restaurant in a different area of Lionshead before opening the Concert Hall Plaza location.

“We had a little carry-out joint in the location where the Arrabelle is now, with six barstools,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said Moe’s Original BBQ started after himself, Gilbert and Mike Fernandez — all originally from Alabama — discovered Vail through a mutual love of skiing in the early 2000s. Fernandez was attending the Johnson & Wales culinary school in Vail at the time.

“We moved into town and all loved it, and just started calling it our home,” Kennedy said.

They started operating a barbecue trailer in the Edwards area, before moving the trailer to EagleVail and then opening up the storefront in Lionshead Village in Vail.

Gilbert said they all loved the outdoors, and their motivation for working hard was to afford themselves more opportunities to enjoy snow, whitewater and trails-based activities.

“That’s what every day was about, the Vail Valley culture,” Gilbert said. “That could be with skiing, with hiking, with kayaking, whatever it may be. That’s what drew us here.”

Fernandez now lives in Florida, but Kennedy and Gilbert still live in the Vail area.

Kennedy said the Moe’s Original BBQ location in Eagle “will always continue,” and he hopes to return to Vail in the future, as well.

“It’s a huge part of the local community here, so it’s sad to leave that scene, but unfortunately it has to be done right now,” Kennedy said. “My team is just going to focus on strengthening the brand of Moe’s across the country.”

Moe’s Original BBQ hosts a crawfish boil at the end of every ski season, but this year’s was the final event for the Lionshead location in Vail as the business has decided to close its doors. Owners Jeff Kennedy and Ben Gilbert said they’re hopeful Moe’s may be able to return to Vail in the future.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Kennedy said Moe’s now has 53 storefronts across the United States. He said he hopes to get that number to 100.

“I want to see it continue to grow at an aggressive but manageable pace,” he said. “We’re not trying to be a cookie-cutter franchise on every corner; we want to go into cool communities where partners want to live, and where we want to go visit, and just create small pockets of really unique community, and passionate hospitality, and really just create very unique scenes wherever we go.”

Gilbert said he hopes the labor issue improves in Eagle County and the business is able to open a Vail location again.

“The last thing we wanted to do was shut down our first store that we ever started, but it is what it is with the landscape of Vail right now,” Gilbert said.

If there’s one thing that gives him hope, Gilbert said, it’s the aggressive efforts of the Vail Housing Department and Housing Director George Ruther. Gilbert said he has been encouraged by seeing the town create worker housing in the Chamonix and Middle Creek areas of Vail.

“(In resort areas), I don’t think anybody is doing it any better than Vail, I think everybody is having a tough time, from the beach towns to the mountain towns,” Gilbert said. “It’s tough everywhere, there’s no housing. Hopefully, in the next couple years, things will be resolved, but for the time being, it’s just time for us to move on.”

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