New owner takes the reins at Steamboat’s Ore House steakhouse
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That is the philosophy Scott Buchler is using as he takes over ownership of the Ore House at Pine Grove, one of Steamboat’s most iconic restaurants.
The sale of the restaurant closed Nov. 9. The building and its 1-acre property sold for $2.4 million, and the business was sold separately for an undisclosed price.
“We want this to continue as is,” Buchler said.
The Ore House is located in one of Steamboat’s commercial centers and is housed in a barn that was a part of a 280-acre ranch homesteaded in 1889 by James Lewis.
It was a working cattle ranch until it was sold in 1971, and the barn was then converted into a restaurant.
There is a brand on the silo signifying “b quarter circle.” The brand belonged to longtime Yampa Valley rancher Robert Nefzger.
Jeff Little bought the business in 1990, and the restaurant, known for having the only certified Angus steaks in Steamboat, thrived.
“I think to sum up the Ore House, it’s a legacy,” Little said. “I like to think that I made it a better restaurant. I’m just passing the tenure of it basically.”
He said parting with the restaurant is bittersweet.
After running it for 27 years and at the age of 66, Little said it was just time to sell.
Keeping the tradition alive was important for Little, as well as business partners Dan and Diane Emert.
Little said they talked to several other people who were interested in buying the restaurant, including some with corporate ties.
Buchler essentially had to convince the owners that he was the right man to keep the restaurant going.
“It was almost like an interview so I could give them the money to buy it,” Buchler said. “They were very concerned about what happened to the Ore House.”
Fortunately, Buchler came to the interview room with 35 years of restaurant experience.
At 16, Buchler was selling hot dogs in Huntington Beach, California. He also ran a Sizzler steakhouse and then worked in Boulder, where one of his responsibilities was feeding University of Colorado athletes.
He said the football players were especially fond of baked beans mixed with sliced hot dogs.
“They would just eat bowls and bowls of beanie weenies,” Buchler said. “They loved that stuff.”
Most recently, Buchler was the vice president of operations for a Burger King franchise with 20 restaurants in Colorado Springs and Denver.
Buchler wanted a business he could call his own that would help him support his family, which includes his wife, Deborah, and three children.
He stumbled upon the Ore House sale listing online.
“There is nothing else like it around,” Buchler said.
The family previously had visited Steamboat during summers and came to test out the Ore House.
“It was terrific,” Buchler said.
Buchler was not only impressed by the food but also the historic nature of the building and the staff, which includes a team of cooks who have an average tenure at the Ore House of 12 years.
“It’s a real team environment,” Buchler said. “It’s almost like family. I haven’t seen anything like it before.”
On Saturday night, Buchler was in the kitchen learning how the operation works.
“There are a lot of secret compartments that I’m finding,” Buchler said. “I’m still trying to find all the light switches. It’s got character. Nothing like it.”
He said customers have been questioning him about whether there would be any changes.
“If you get rid of the salad bar, I’ll hunt you down,” Buchler recalled one customer saying when expressing their concerns.
He does plan to use Open Table, which will allow customers to make reservations online, but everything else will stay the same.
Ore House, which has 51 employees, will serve 550 dinners over a four-hour period on a busy night, and Buchler knows the winter visitors are arriving very soon.
“Bring it on,” Buchler said. “We’re ready.”
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