Dec 4, 2013 10:09 PM by Zach Thaxton
Merlino's Belvedere, the iconic Cañon City restaurant advertised for miles on billboards along U.S. Highway 50 and State Highway 115, will permanently close at the end of business on New Year's Eve. The decision was made Tuesday, according to owner Mike Merlino. Finances are to blame. "We had a $7,000 payroll for two weeks worth of work and we had $4,000 in the bank," Merlino said.
Merlino's opened on January 6, 1946, founded by Mike Merlino's grandfather Ubaldo. It has endured changing times and previous economic downturns, but couldn't endure the impact from the drop in tourism following this summer's Royal Gorge Fire. "That was the straw that broke our back," Merlino said. "We could see the handwriting on the wall and we were just hanging on the best we could. The economics being the way they are, you can't just raise your prices more."
Over the course of its nearly 68 years of operation, Merlino's Belvedere became a signature of Cañon City in its location on Elm Avenue. Events like the Belvedere Bluesfest helped raise money for local charities and the restaurant's handmade pastas, home-cooked steaks, and signature salads drew patrons from across the region and even from neighboring states. Merlino says the turning point in declining revenues was stricter liquor enforcement. "People came out and they drank a lot more than they do now," Merlino said. "They usually only have one drink nowadays." Merlino says while the food at the Belvedere has always been its signature, declining revenues in liquor sales have eroded profits over the years to the point where it is no longer possible to break even. A trend toward patronage of less-expensive chain restaurants and cooking at home have also been contributing factors in recent years. Merlino says that 15 years ago, a Saturday night at his restaurant would serve up 250 dinners and there would be a two-hour wait to be seated. Now, around 140 dinners are served on the busiest nights and that's not enough to turn a profit.
27 employees, including Merlino and his wife, will lose their jobs when the restaurant closes. Merlino fought back tears when describing the impact on his employees, some who have been with him nearly three decades. "I feel for them also," Merlino said. "I just appreciate all of our customers and our employees."