Turntable saved in 11th-hour deal
MINTURN – It was an emotional roller coaster at the Minturn Turntable on Wednesday.In the morning, manager Darla Goodell was still reeling from news she received last month that the building’s owner, Union Pacific, planned to tear the aging restaurant down. But something happened in the afternoon hours and by the end of the day, railroad officials had changed their minds. Goodell could keep the Turntable and even run the endeared Minturn restaurant. “I’m still in shock,” Goodell said. “We are sure going to have some fun.”News that the restaurant – best known for its green chili and no-frills atmosphere – would be closing hit Minturn hard.
Union Pacific owns the land and the buildings next to the railroad tracks. When the train turntable stopped being used, the company leased it to a company called Contract Services, which rents old railroad buildings across the country. The building has been the home to a few restaurants and its been the Turntable Restaurant since 1980. But Contract Services decided to stop renting the place and the railroad company figured it was time for the Turntable to go. Residents and patrons couldn’t have disagreed more.Several wrote letters to railroad officials. Others prepared for the loss by loading up on Turntable grub before the expected Oct. 2 closing. Resident Ty Gillespie called Union Pacific’s decision a “knee-jerk reaction.””I’m shocked,” he said. “It’s sort of the heart and soul of the community and I think the railroad just hasn’t thought about the implication of shutting this down.”
He briefly circulated a petition earlier this week and within a few hours he got 123 signatures. Gillespie also sent a letter to Greg Larson, who works in Union Pacific’s real estate department. The letter asked Union Pacific to reconsider the decision. Not only would the employees be jobless, but since many of them live in trailers on the premises, they would be homeless, too, he said. “It was a heart-wrenching scene at the restaurant when the devastating news came this morning,” Gillespie wrote. “The Turntable is an institution.”Union Pacific reasoned it was in their best interest to tear the aging building down, said John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific.”Typically we want to get rid of old buildings,” he said. But the public opposition made the company reconsider.”Well, I would say because of the political pressure and interest in preserving the restaurant and the historic building made us decide to go ahead and lease it,” Bromley said.
Union Pacific has agreed to lease the restaurant to Goodell and also has agreed not to raise the monthly rent. Goodell said she was jumping for joy when she got the phone call Wednesday afternoon. Literally. “Jose (the cook) and I were jumping up and down,” she said.Now she’s faced with an equally stressful, but more uplifting idea: Being in charge. And now that Goodell is in charge of the books, she and her employees are considering the possibilities: Perhaps a local’s card, a green chili delivery service, better marketing of the dinner menu or a promotional campaign to attract Front Rangers to the motel and restaurant. The restaurant, which occupies the old train turntable, is a throwback to a different era. Inside the floors are checked black and white, and the booths are worn and homeyThe decor is an homage to Minturn’s yesteryear. There are encased cheerleader’s uniforms from the days when Minturn had a high school. In another room there is memorabilia from the ’50s, such as a cut-out of Elvis Presley propped up next to an authentic and functional milkshake bar.
A train set weaves through the back of the restaurant and the front of every Turntable menu is a brief explanation of the building’s origins and namesake. Local residents, senior citizens and tourists eat there. Just last Sunday, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson stopped in for breakfast and left Goodell an autograph. They come for the nostalgia, the unpretentious atmosphere or the inexpensive prices, but mainly, they come here for the food, Goodell said. “I had a man one day tell me, ‘If I could have a Boo burrito every day of my life I wouldn’t need everything else,'” Goodell said, referring to the diner’s signature breakfast burrito that is smothered with, of course, green chili.Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 607, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado