VALLECITO - The Schank House, named for owners Jim and Char Schank, has sprung up in place of the Buffalo Gap restaurant, a popular gathering place for locals in this lakefront tourist town.
The Schanks, who have owned Rocky Mountain General Store next door to the restaurant for more than five years, opened The Schank House on Halloween.
After scraping through a long, slow winter, The Schank House is preparing for its first summer. The restaurant is looking to hire cooks, waiters and bartenders for the busy season. For now, the Schanks and their three children help run the place.
"It's been a rough winter, the poorest time of year to open a restaurant up here," Jim Schank said. "But we had a lot of local support."
Buffalo Gap went belly-up last year, and the Schanks purchased the building at 17460 County Road 501 out of foreclosure.
"For the valley as a whole, it's very good," said Rolland Healy, treasurer of the Vallecito Chamber of Commerce. "Restaurants do better when there's more restaurants around."
The eclectic décor that marked Buffalo Gap has been cleared out. The Schanks bought new pool tables and flat-screen TVs. The bar, which is the only full bar in Vallecito for now, and kitchen got makeovers. Broasted chicken, steaks and burgers highlight the menu.
The Schanks hope the business proves popular with summer tourists, including the bikers who like to cruise around the reservoir.
"We want to cater to that market," Jim Schank said.
The restaurant displays Harley-Davidson memorabilia. Live music on Sunday afternoons is planned to lure in motorcyclists. The Schank House also plans to offer live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
John Kane, a Vallecito resident who was sipping a beer at The Schank House, said the restaurant's opening means "hope and inspiration to the people around here."
The Vallecito area leans heavily on summer tourism. RV travelers fill up campgrounds, boaters race up and down the reservoir and bikers rattle down the county roads. For now, though, ice still covers much of the reservoir.
Another Vallecito institution, Virginia's Steakhouse, closed in September after several years of mismanagement and financial troubles. The owner, Steven Dudley, served jail time for multiple drunken-driving offenses.
Virginia's plans to reopen under the new ownership of Jim and Donna Lawrence of Arizona, according to the Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce. The bar will open Thursday with live music planned each weekend, but the restaurant will not open until the middle of May, said Donna Lawrence.
Virginia's and The Schank House add to Pura Vida Café and Vallecito Lake Country Market and Mexican Food for restaurant options around the reservoir.
"It's four somewhat different places to eat, which adds variety to everybody up there," said Healy, who owns the country market with his wife, Diane.
Healy added, "The Schank House being open adds to the restaurant mix and gives us an added flavor for the people of Vallecito, the locals and the tourists."