Crested Butte council to consider town-wide restaurant emergency declaration

Soupçon lunch shutdown makes council more aware

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte town council will look at ways to bring a greater sense of urgency to the town restaurant situation which has been defined this summer by many closed and partially open restaurants, particularly on Elk Avenue. The closures are the result of major renovations at some of the primary restaurants and the difficulty of finding workers to be open seven days a week in the busy summer season. A flurry of issues with commercial restaurant kitchen hoods that caused many restaurants to be closed for months have also added to the dilemma. The bottom line is that several former prominent restaurants are not serving food during the busiest time of year, which has not gone unnoticed with tourist complaints and stories in the local and state media.

Council wants to do something about the situation, and they may consider following the template they approved with the workforce housing situation—a possible restaurant emergency declaration. What that would entail and how it would work is not yet known.

The council was reminded of the dilemma when John Leonardi, Soupçon’s owner, asked the council at its Tuesday, August 8 meeting if it could help him quickly get approval for the outside lunch seating that was shut down by town staff. Earlier this summer, Leonardi opened Miette, a Soupçon offshoot, serving lunches. Along with the small restaurant space, for his lunch service Leonardi situated six tables under a tent on private property next to the Soupçon building, as had been done during the COVID era. 

Leonardi told the council that the town had told him to shut the operation down and threatened big fines until he received the proper permits to continue outdoor dining. He asked the council to let him reopen the outdoor lunch service while the application was being processed since it had been approved during COVID and he did not realize he needed to reapply. Otherwise, Leonardi explained that he might have to lay off staff and cease offering lunch given the financials margins if the outdoor seats could not be used. He felt another lunch option in Crested Butte was a needed town amenity in this time of limited restaurant options. 

“We are looking for an interim solution to serve outside to take some pressure off the restaurants,” he said. 

Several of the Miette servers implored the council to help find a solution to keep the outside lunch service open for the rest of the summer. “Council says they want to help the mom-and-pop restaurant owners,” said Martha Keene. “That’s Miette. Shutting us down doesn’t make sense to us.” 

At the end of the council meeting, Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ explained that staff’s involvement arose from a citizen complaint and, upon investigating the situation, it was determined Leonardi did not have the proper documentation to be serving lunch on the outside site. Russ said that BOZAR (Board of Zoning and Architectural Review) would look at Leonardi’s application at the August 29 meeting.

Some councilmembers asked if they could make a decision to help immediately or hold an emergency meeting that could be called quickly to address the issue. Town attorney Karl Hanlon said under the town charter the council did not have the authority to allow an interim operation. He and Russ said it was a BOZAR decision.

“It seems like an emergency situation given the lack of restaurants,” noted councilmember Gabi Prochaska.

“I’m not sure you can allow someone to operate illegally. Plus, public notice has to be given,” said Hanlon. “Is waiving public notice something you as a council want to do? And under what criteria?”

“Obviously it is important to follow the code,” said councilmember Mallika Magner. “But it is obvious there is a restaurant crisis in town. I’d like to think Crested Butte is still a small town and we can help out when community members need it. If the only hold-up is they have to go to a BOZAR meeting, I could make the case it is important to help them sooner, before August 29.”

“If land use decisions in your town code become a political decision it is an uncomfortable place for the town to be,” said Hanlon.

“Is it possible and okay to have the staff look at the submittal and see if the application is promising and let them know if there are issues?” asked councilmember Chris Haver.

“Staff adjusted the BOZAR agenda to get it on there fast,” responded Russ, who also said the staff always tries to help applications navigate the administrative process.

“I think there is a lot of urgency with the restaurant situation, not just about this particular Soupçon issue but the whole thing,” said mayor Ian Billick. “I think we need to look at how we can address some sort of helpful policy in the near future.”

Council made it clear they wanted the town to consider every angle to help the lean restaurant situation. One of the ideas they will consider soon is looking at a possible restaurant emergency declaration.

Soupçon’s application is scheduled to be before BOZAR at the end of the month and Leonardi said he will play out the situation to see what the town determines.

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