By PJ DiPentino
Special to the Berthoud Recorder
In the current state of economic woes, business closures are not uncommon. For me the closing of the Wayside Inn really hit home. I started my relationship with Chef Jeremy and Deb when they first opened the doors. My wife Lexi was on the original team, and I joined the crew about 18 months ago as a prep cook. The excitement of being a part of the Wayside staff and training with Chef was an eye-opening yet gratifying opportunity. I rarely came to work to anything but an enjoyable experience. I learned so much from Chef, and it wasn’t all cooking.
About a year ago Chef and Deb brought all the employees together and explained their situation. There were a number of unfortunate circumstances that had brought them to a very difficult place. They purchased a building that was improperly represented at sale. The roof had to be completely replaced and equipment did not work as advertised. The SBA made a lot of promises and did not come thru as agreed in crunch time. A water heater spouted a leak and flooded the basement just to name a few of the problems in the first 12 months. There were a lot of hills to overcome, and they were not sure how long the Wayside Inn could continue.
In the next year the staff slimmed down, and Chef and Deb assumed most responsibilities, their days starting at breakfast and often ending after midnight. When most people would have given up, they tightened their belts, and in the next 12 months showed me what true American work ethics are about. They never cut corners for economics in the quality of the food and service. They kept heads up and chins out and did everything possible to stay above water. Chef was forced to let go all cooking staff and with my prep help, he continued to run the kitchen and line by himself, never once complaining about the work load. Deb took over all management and pub duties, often bartending, hosting and serving all in the same night. Never complaining!
Then came the Mountain Avenue project. Timing couldn’t have been worse. The customers dropped off, and there were days that entry to the parking lot wasn’t even available. The state of the economy was also a big factor. Fine dining seemed to be one of the things that Americans were sacrificing during this belt-tightening time. Even the patrons who did show up were ordering less expensive items from the menu. Chef changed the menu to give the more budget-oriented customer more options yet still maintained his homemade fresh product. As the holidays approached I honestly thought they were going to get over the hump. Banquets, parties and a new interest in live performances had brought up counts considerably.
The final blow came when the power and gas company dropped a bomb on the Wayside Inn recently. They were completely caught off guard when the utility company demanded a payment and a deposit of double what they were already holding. The utility company explained that the new policy for commercial business was an additional deposit if payment history was stressed. This $20,000 deposit was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
I have been asked many times this week what happened at the Wayside Inn. My answer is simple: they were let down by a number of unforeseen circumstances and an economy that is killing the American dream. One thing I can tell you is it was not because of a lack of desire or incompetence from the owners. They are true Americans — hard-working, strong-willed people who had a dream and took a chance. Never giving in and always working until the end! I’m not sure where they are headed in the future, but Chef and Deb will continue to be true leaders no matter where life takes them. These are two of thousands of American business owners who were trying to hold on to their dream without sacrificing quality or honor. It has been a pleasure to learn from them. Thank you for all the extra effort you put in. And thank you for the positive light you shed on this difficult time our country is going through. You and the Wayside Inn will be missed.