Locals crave fast-food in Eagle County
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado West Vail resident Bryan Kata would like to see an Arbys move into town. Two words explain why. Horsey sauce.Vail councilman Kevin Foley wouldnt protest if a Dunkin Donuts wanted to set up shop. Im from the East Coast and a donut fix would be great, he said.Just down the highway, Minturn councilman Bill Burnett would welcome a Kentucky Fried Chicken or a Taco Bell.In a valley where gourmet grub is king, fast food has a special appeal for some residents. Quick and uncomplicated, it offers a chance to fuel up without shelling out too much cash. The valley has several national chain restaurants Burger King, McDonalds and Wendys come to mind and a variety of independent shops, but are they enough to satisfy fast food fans?Rifle resident Joseph Moncy wants more options. Work often takes him to Vail or Avon, where he frequents Taco Bell or Burger King on lunch breaks.I dont think theres enough fast food places around because most people spend about 20 minutes waiting in line at the few places that there are and by the time they get their food, they have five minutes left to eat it before they get back to work, the 21-year-old said. And if I eat too fast, I get a stomachache.
Opening a fast food joint in the valley is an expensive prospect, experts say.Land is scarce and the few available properties hardly qualify for Dollar Menu status.For one, theres just not much undeveloped real estate and so if you try to find a piece of vacant land where you can build a McDonalds, theres not one, said Dudley Ottley, a branch broker with Slifer Smith & Frampton in Beaver Creek. And if you do find an existing building you want to tear down, the cost if prohibitive. Its too expensive so they cant sell enough double cheese burgers to pay the mortgage. Buying three-quarters of an acre can cost $1 to $5 million in the valley, Ottley said. The same swath of land would cost a mere $400,000 to $700,000 in Atlanta, Ga., he said.And those costs trickle down to rents, too. John Fitzthum, who rents space for three Subways in the valley, estimates the rents range from $35 to $100 per square foot compared with a more consistent $25 to $35 per square foot in a non-resort town.Its enough to send some entrepreneurs packing.I would say the expense of property in Vail would be a factor why you might not want to build there, said Tim Gingles, director of operations for the Taco Bells in West Vail and Eagle.This dynamic is evident in Minturn, the former mining town just west of Vail. Town council member Bill Burnett named three vacant buildings along Main Street that could house fast food restaurants, but said no one can afford to rent them. The rents in Minturn are just out of sight, Burnett said.
Land isnt the only thing scarce in the valley. Fast food owners complain about a labor shortage, too.The labor pool isnt really in Vail, Gingles with Taco Bell said. We have folks who come from Leadville to work for us. We have folks that come from Gypsum. If you look at Vail itself, its difficult to find employees from the area.The problem stems from a lack of affordable housing, fast food executives say.The employee issues are really a concern, said Paul Nelson, owner of McDonalds in West Vail and Avons Wal-mart. Weve had to purchase housing and help employees with housing.Although land costs and labor shortages are roadblocks, local officials make few attempts to stand between locals and their Big Macs.We have never discouraged someone from trying to open up a fast food restaurant, Burnett from Minturn said.Rather than slapping fast food joints with extra laws, Avon, Vail, Edwards, Eagle and Minturn lump them in with sit-down establishments. Most towns also allow fast food in several zoning districts. For instance, Vail permits fast food in its villages, along with West Vail.The few regulations that are unique to the valley apply to the faade. Vail encourages architecture that fits its mountain character, town chief of planning Warren Campbell said. For example, McDonalds is decorated with stone, stucco and lodge-like wooden crossbeams.Gingles with the Taco Bell in Eagle incorporated masonry work to meet the local requirements.These arent just boxes that were talking about building, he said. We put a lot of time and effort into the architecture in Vail versus if you were going to go down to a standard Taco Bell in Denver where its just a square box, basically. We put all the bells and whistles up here.Councy commissioner Peter Runyon said Edwards forbids neon lights on fast food restaurants.We have a community, for better or for worse, that tries to be in harmony rather than in stark contrast with the natural environment, he said.
Thanks to I-70 commuters who break for burritos and skiers who fuel up with a quick burger before hitting the mountain, some local fast food restauranteurs say business is booming.Spokesmen from Taco bell, McDonalds and Subway said their sales continue to grow, though they declined to disclose exact figures.I would say our Vail customer is more health conscious, Fitzthum with Subway said.At Subway, local customers stock up on turkey, ham and chicken teriyaki sandwiches from the low-fat menu. The trend continues at Taco Bell, where customers prefer the more nutritious chicken burritos over their beef counterparts, and at McDonalds, where salads, snack wraps and grilled chicken sandwiches are especially popular.Although sales are strong, those three chains have no specific plans to expand, and town officials say they are unaware of new plans for fast food restaurants in general. Its hard to pinpoint exactly how many fast food restaurants the valley has because everyone defines fast food differently. Neither businessmen or officials predict an influx of fast food anytime soon.I think because of property costs, I think were probably stable right now, Gingles with Taco Bell said. I dont see a lot of future growth in fast food restaurants right now just because its such a hard community to get into.