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Arapahoe Cafe, a Colorado high country favorite and the "soul of Dillon," closing doors: "You're losing the sense of community"

Arapahoe Cafe, "soul of Dillon," closing doors this month
Arapahoe Cafe, "soul of Dillon," closing doors this month 03:31

We'll tell you this; the Arapahoe Cafe (or "A Cafe") in Dillon is not closing because they don't have the business to stay open.

Owner Doug Pierce and daughter/Manager Bonnie Lehman said it was simply a matter outside their control that's leading them to close up shop come mid-October after more than two decades in business.

"We're not comfortable with the uncertainty of the future. Dillion is wanting to redevelop," Pierce said. "We don't think it's fair for our employees and to ourselves to be living and working in this uncertainty."

What is certain is that the owners of the land under the A Cafe are looking to sell. Who will buy it is still to be determined, but Pierce and Lehman were given the notice that they would no longer be able to rent the land soon.

"It was very hard, has been very hard and is very hard. Every day is hard," Pierce said. "But we figured it was time to move on."

The owners were not the first owners to have the cafe open to the public. Pierce said he believes the building was built in 1945, when the Arapahoe Cafe was both a cafe and home to the owners.

"They actually split the building, half for the cafe, the other half for their house," Lehman explained to your mountain reporter Spencer Wilson. There are still old photos hanging up in the restaurant that show the split. 

After that, a renaming, then another renaming, it eventually ended up in the hands of Pierce and his family. He said there was a lot of work to get done.

"We did not know what we were getting into," he said, laughing. "It was a tough few years we had a lot of rebuilding to do, but we did it."

What they did was accomplish a tough task for any restaurant, let alone one in a resort town. They created a stable staple for tourists and locals alike, with good food, fair prices (in the mountains, can you believe it?) and staff that knew your name and your order.

"We didn't want it to seem like they were coming to work," Pierce said. "This is where they live, this is where they hang out and this is what they do in life, work is secondary to that."

Local Cory Carswell said that attitude is palpable when you come for a visit. 

"It's definitely the last remaining piece of a small community that, you know, can revolve around something so much as like a diner," Carswell said. "You used to have those places where everyone went to that diner and everyone eat their breakfast and broke bread in the same place."

"Losing this place... you're losing the sense of community," Carswell said. "I feel like this was the soul of Dillon, the last bit of it."

"It's just where everyone goes," Ruthie Kimmons explained. "I'm heartbroken, if you go bike riding, you stop here afterward, have some lunch. You play pickleball, you come here for a beer with your friends. Afterwards, the locals hang out," she said. "We are so sad to see this place go away."

Pierce said he's expecting a discussion with the Dillon City Council Tuesday night regarding ideas to either move the building to another location in Dillon or to rebuild a replica of the building, but neither option will save what he's spent so long building with his family. Even if the building were to be placed or rebuilt somewhere else, it wouldn't be the same, as the location is part of what makes the cafe/bar/landmark special.

"It's a bullseye, we call it," Pierce said, laughing. "Yeah, which is a good problem to have. We've enjoyed it most of the time."

The restaurant plans to close its doors on Oct. 15.

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