After an abrupt closure in late April, El Rancho Brewing Company in Evergreen has reopened “in taproom mode,” says owner Paul Vincent.
Vincent and his two brothers purchased the historic El Rancho, which has its own exit off I-70, in 2015. The lodge-style building was built by the Jahnke family in 1947 and opened as a restaurant the next year.
Mildred and Ray Zipprich of Milwaukee bought it in 1953, and it was run by their son-in-law, Paul McEnroe, until 1988. He made the place a tourist destination with a lounge, live music, and a gift shop – and was instrumental in getting him that freeway exit. But after McEnroe sold it, El Rancho went through a series of owners – and an “identity crisis”, as one former employee put it when she wrote about her first restaurant job at the end. from the 90s.
It sat vacant for two years before the Vincent family stepped in, buying the building and carrying out a renovation that included the addition of a brewery before the El Rancho brewery opened in January 2016. But now its future is uncertain: the restaurant has a large financial debt and is in the throes of legal disputes.
The details of how the historic company got into its current situation are muddled. Allegations of money mismanagement come from both Vincent, who took over operations after his brothers left the state, and former chief executive Glen Fountain. But one thing the two can agree on is the record of the dispute.
“It’s a bit traumatic,” Vincent says of the current situation. “I’ve been here pretty much full time for five years, sometimes 24/7. There are a lot of moving parts here. My goal has always been to at least break even and building a healthy, self-sufficient company, a company with a good culture where people want to work, it’s quite disappointing to end up where we are.
“It’s really devastating and heartbreaking,” Fountain said of her experience with El Rancho. “He has so much history and love for him from the community and my family.”
Fountain came on board in El Rancho in June 2020, when the business was still closed due to COVID. He had recently launched the Mountain Zoom delivery service and owned the Anthony’s Pizza location in the Evergreen Safeway Mall; In September, while working at El Rancho, he also opened Evergreen Deli. Although he still owns and operates the deli, he says he shut down Mountain Zoom and sold Anthony’s place in order to focus on El Rancho. He also sits on the board of the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce.
“I was really optimistic, he had a lot of really good fresh ideas,” Vincent recalled of their initial relationship.
“I became obsessed with the place, I became a historian of the place,” Fountain said of his time at El Rancho.
Although they disagree on the specifics, both acknowledge that Fountain joined the team with the ultimate goal of becoming co-owners.
From the outside, it looked like El Rancho was forging a new path after nearly thirty years of troubled operations. It had a talented chef and award-winning brewer on board, and its Yelp reviews, which had been dismal in recent years, have improved throughout 2021.
But both Fountain and Vincent say behind the scenes it was a different story, with each accusing the other of racking up unpaid taxes, bills and wages. Fountain resigned on April 26 of this year. By April 27, two-thirds of El Rancho’s employees had also left.
Although Vincent tried to stay open for dinner only with the rest of the staff, he says: “We just couldn’t keep the schedule full, so we closed for a few weeks while I tried to gather information. “
Unfortunately, many private events, including weddings, were scheduled during this closure – there are reviews and comments on Yelp on the El Rancho Facebook page from people saying they were never informed of the closed despite having reserved the place well in advance.
But now El Rancho has reopened – partially, at least. “I’m sitting on about 20,000 pints of beer,” Vincent says. And so, aided by a remaining employee, he opens four days a week in hopes of selling inventory. Current hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Because El Rancho has a brewery license, 15% of its sales must be food, so in addition to beer, it offers a daily self-serve special.
“We’re in bootstrap mode right now,” admits Vincent. He knows that to get through this in the long run he will need the support of a strong staff, but at this point, he notes, “I’m trying to sell beer and get the bills paid.” .
Fountain is not optimistic about the future of the company. “I personally don’t think it will ever reopen as a restaurant,” he says, citing the current labor shortage, El Rancho’s shaky reputation and current debts. “Plus, it’s prime real estate. It’s going to end up being a hotel or a mall. I’d be worried if someone tried to open a restaurant there.”
“At this point,” Vincent says, “I’m considering everything from bankruptcy, to finding partners or investors, to selling the place outright. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”