The St. Elmo Hotel and Bon Ton restaurant (located in the hotel’s basement) have been acquired in a five-year lease purchase deal by Tim Tucker and Tyler Hill of Denver and Telluride, respectively. The deal went through on Dec. 15. Dan and Sandy Lingenfelter, the former proprietors, have owned both businesses since the 1980s, and retain ownership of the Bon Ton’s sister restaurant, the Buen Tiempo, across the street.
Tucker, originally from a small mountain town in Wyoming, is a funeral director who has had co-ownership in two funeral homes on the Front Range.
“You reach a point where you start to get a little burned out,” he explained. “It was time to do something a little less depressing. Moving back to the mountains and a small town was something I wanted to do, and running a bed-and-breakfast was a dream of mine.”
Hill, meanwhile, an Olathe native with a decade’s worth of diverse experience in Telluride’s restaurant scene, will focus his efforts on managing the Bon Ton.
Built in 1898 by Catherine “Kittie” Heit, the St. Elmo Hotel at 426 Main Street retains a charming aura of yesteryear, and holds a place of honor among Ouray’s many historic landmarks. Its 10 guest rooms and Victorian lobby have been restored to their original wallpapers and fixtures and contain many original furnishings. “It’s like a time capsule,” Tucker said. “It’s just a joy to walk around in. It’s like standing in the middle of a history book.”
The hotel even comes with its own resident ghost, Freddie, Heit’s son who hung himself in what is now room No. 5. “From time to time, everyone who has worked here has had weird little things happen,” Tucker said. “It’s fun if he’s there; he’s not a scary ghost.”
Heit owned and operated the Queen Anne-style hotel well into the 20th century. She also acquired the Bon Ton restaurant, which has been around in various forms since 1886, and used to occupy a wooden building between the hotel and the Wright Opera House that has since been torn down. The restaurant moved into its present location in the stone-clad cellar of the St. Elmo in 1977. It has established a reputation over the years among locals and visitors alike, as one of the finest Italian eateries in the region.
Plans for the restaurant “are to pretty much leave things as they are,” Tucker said. “You don’t fix something that’s not broken.”
In an industry that is typically plagued by turnover, Tucker noted that the majority of the Bon Ton staff, from wait to kitchen, have been there a long time, with executive chef Tim Eihausen reigning over the kitchen for 17 years.
“That is extremely rare,” Tucker said. “To see them work is like a ballet. There is nothing to change. The food is just wonderful. They’ve got it down.”
At the hotel, too, things will be staying pretty much the same. “We bounced ideas off guests, like maybe putting TVs in the rooms, but that didn’t go over,” he said.
Two concessions to the digital age will be made on the restaurant front, however: a listing on Open Table, a searchable restaurant data base that lets people make reservations online, and a new state-of-the-art point-of-sale system that allows waiters to take orders at the table and key them in wirelessly to the kitchen. “It saves a lot of time,” Tucker said. Waiters will also be able to take credit card payments right at the table.
While things were pretty busy at the Bon Ton and St. Elmo over the Ice Festival Weekend, Tucker and Hill look forward to having the rest of the winter to get their feet under them and get to know the ebbs and flows of their new businesses, and newly adopted community, before the hectic summer season arrives.
“We are very interested in being involved in the community and getting to know people here,” said Tucker. “We want to be good neighbors.”