Stacks Smokehouse closes doors, owner blames economic climate surrounding coal mine
June 23, 2015
After less than six months of being in business, the owner of Stacks Smokehouse closed the doors to his restaurant due to Craig's economic uncertainty in light of what's happening at Colowyo Coal Mine.
Steve Fulton said his business — which opened in the former Double Barrel Steakhouse building on Feb. 20 — dropped 40 percent days after the community met on June 3 for a public meeting with Colowyo representatives.
"Looking at my numbers, June 3 was when they had that meeting, the 4th was an OK day and then Friday and Saturday we went from basically $1,500 to $1,600 a day to about $700 to $900 a day," Fulton said. "Most of where our business fell off was the weekend business, but it dropped immediately, and it laid there. Now we're about 25 percent up, so it's slowly coming back."
Despite business climbing back, Fulton said it was not worth the financial risk to stay opened, noting that he didn't take out a loan to open the restaurant but rather used his own money. He pays $2,500 a month renting his space. It's not clear what will happen with his lease.
However, other restaurants — including Carelli's and JW Snack's — have seen a boost in business over the last couple of months.
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"It's busy as ever," said Carelli’s owner Stephanie Etzler, noting that last Saturday was the second best day the restaurant has seen.
JW Snack's Bar & Grill owner Danny Griffith said the same.
"On the contrary, we've seen a spike in business and some of these people that are coming in I've never seen in my place before," Griffith said. "And they start by shaking my hand and patting my back and saying 'We really appreciate what your doing for the coal industry, and we'll be back.'"
Griffith was one of the first restaurant owners to remove New Belgium beer from his establishment after learning that the brewery gave money to the environmental group that litigated against Colowyo.
"The first year-and-a-half is the toughest, and anyone in the restaurant business will tell you that. You can't throw in the towel after six months. You have to give it a go," Griffith said.
Although Fulton is closing his restaurant, he and his wife, Tina, will stay in Craig.
Prior to opening Stacks Smokehouse, Fulton was a business consultant for the Craig Moffat Economic Development Partnership, helping businesses build sound business models. He's going back to work with CMEDP Executive Director Audrey Danner to consult businesses in the Small Business Development Center.
"We're pleased to have Steve come back and provide business consulting services," Danner said. She doesn't feel that the closing of Fulton's business will hurt his ability to consult.
"Not at all," she said.
She highlighted that Fulton had to make the tough decision to close based on his business model.
"One of the things that's different about my business opposed to JW Snack's, and even Carelli's, is the focus that we place on alcohol. Alcohol runs about 6 to 8 percent of our sales," Fulton said. "We're not that nighttime hangout place, where people go and have beers and hang out. Our focus has been on the food."
He said his business model won't work under the current economic conditions and that he never would've opened the restaurant if he knew what was coming with Colowyo.
"I could choose to stay and ride out the next 90 or the 120 days timeline that Colowyo was on, but as a business person, I'm choosing not to do that. Not when I'm seeing a decline in my business that was immediate," Fulton said. "To me the risk now isn't worth the return."
Fulton opted not to "cheapen" his business model by offering lower quality foods. Stacks served sustainable meat and used vegetables provided by local farmers.
"I looked at the community, and I felt that we need good quality food here, a good quality restaurant, and so that was my reasoning for opening. When I moved here… there's two things I looked at… one was the quality of the community. I love the people. The other was the economic disparity that didn't match up with the community," Fulton said, noting that he's always wanted to change that disparity, which is why he's been so critical of Craig City Council and Moffat County Commissioners.
Reach Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com. Follow her on Twitter @noelleleavitt.