Imagine a pair of energetic young brothers, displaced if not disheartened casualties of the recession. Picture them standing in the parking lot of a gas station for sale, heads cocked sideways as they stare at the place. “You know,” they say, “this would make an awesome burger joint.”
“That’s pretty close to how it happened,” said Sean Bennett. “We were both coming off the real estate industry, right during the downturn.”
“We didn’t want to do just another convenience store and gas station,” said Deven Bennett. “Growing up in Crested Butte, we’ve seen so many businesses come and go. We wanted to do something that could include a broad spectrum of the community.”
The Bennett brothers took full advantage of their childhoods in Crested Butte, “running around when you’re little, fishing Coal Creek,” said Sean. The boys spent much of their youth outdoors, skiing, snowboarding, fishing.
“When we were kids, you had to hike to the Headwall. I started snowboarding when snowboarding was new,” says Sean, who attended Crested Butte School through sixth grade, maxing out the grades available up-valley at that time. He graduated from Gunnison High School. Deven, three years younger, attended and graduated from Crested Butte Academy. “It was a really good school,” he said.
The boys rode snowmobiles and four-wheelers as kids. Sean remembers going to the movies with pals at what is now the Princess Wine Bar. “There was a woodstove in there,” he recalled. Today, they enjoy mountain and dirt biking, as well as XC skiing.
Did they ever fight? Not so much. “There was the usual, small brotherly stuff,” said Sean, “but we’ve always been real close, and we’ve always gotten along well.” That bodes well for their partnership in business, and their longevity in the community.
“We’ve always appreciated everything that Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley have to offer,” added Deven. “Especially the tight-knit relationships with friends, something we still have.”
The Powerstop in Gunnison was born in May 2009 by the two brothers. “Our emphasis is local,” said Sean. Powerstop beef is grass-fed and comes from the neighborhood—Parker Pastures, a few blocks away and Scanga Meats in Salida. The buns are baked fresh daily at Luna Bakery. Morning brew is roasted by Camp 4 Coffee. Beers are mostly from Colorado, to include Oskar Blues on tap and a cooler filled with microbrews from around the state. Even the road food leans local, with jerky, chips and other snacks from Colorado. Automotive supplies come from Monty’s Car Quest.
“Why would we buy from Denver when we can get that stuff right here in town?” asked Sean.
There’s no denying that the brothers Bennett have a unique perspective as entrepreneurs. “We don’t look at other businesses in town as competitors, but as associates,” said Sean. “You can do things local and do them well.”
Deven and Sean also run Pappy’s Restaurant on Blue Mesa Lake in the summer.
The Powerstop offers gas with no ethanol for ATVs, boats, snowmobiles and other high compression engines. They have 60 local gas accounts, including Crested Butte South and the Gunnison RE1J School District.
“We hear comparison’s with the Gas Café in Crested Butte all the time,” said Sean. Yes, both are gas stations with grills, but The Powerstop does more business at night and also offers a full bar, to include the entire drink menu from Pappy’s. “We don’t sell alcohol to go,” said Deven, unlike most convenience stores.
“Gas isn’t a huge money maker for us,” he added. “We make more off a single Red Bull than from a $75 fill-up of gas.”
The Powerstop is also the bus stop for the Black Hills Stage Line, which runs daily to Denver and Pueblo. “You can go anywhere in the country from The Powerstop,” promises Sean.
“We’ve pioneered co-branding with Rock Star,” he added, and in so doing, associated The Powerstop name with the well-known energy drink.
“We sponsored over 100 local events last year with Rock Star,” said Deven. The brothers are especially fond of supporting kids’ programs and local charities and have found that easier to do in affiliation with a prominent brand. “It’s a big name that college kids connect with.”
The Powerstop connection with Western State Colorado University is strong. Flip Night, every Wednesday, is a huge hit, drawing 75 to 100 students and locals each week. On Flip Night, it’s heads or tails. If you can call the toss of a coin, you win a beer. The Powerstop also accepts the Mountaineer Card. “Parents put money on their kid’s card, and he comes in with three or four of his buddies and buys them all burgers,” said Deven.
Not just a college hangout, The Powerstop appeals to locals and visitors of all persuasions with local food and entertainment. On any given day, you’ll find diners of all ages, including families, enjoying what many tout as the best burger in town. The place is fast becoming a popular venue for live music, too. Merchandise displays have been fitted with wheels so they can be rolled away to make room for bands and their fans.
The menu at The Powerstop is ever-evolving, with many burgers and sandwiches inspired or invented by friends. The Tad and the Ramona are examples. “The Commish is named after Tommy Rozman,” said Sean. “We’re always open to suggestions.”
“We’re working toward greater sustainability,” said Deven. They’d like to carry biofuels and are researching the feasibility of that. The brothers also plan to make their building more energy efficient.
Kiley Laws, an art major at WSCU, has worked at The Powerstop for two and a half years. “I’m proud to be able to brag about the place I work,” she said. “It’s great working with people I care about.” Her co-worker Travis Elliott agrees. “I appreciate the opportunity to put out such a quality product, and it’s also one of the best places in town for musicians.”
A prominent band from Austin thinks so, too. The Bob Floyd Band will perform at The Powerstop February 13, their Texas-tinged funk/pop/rock sure to rattle racks.
When asked if they miss their old jobs, Sean and Deven looked at each other and smiled.
“The challenge of starting a new place was exciting, and we’re still always doing new things to keep it fresh,” said Sean.
Deven added, “We love this!”