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It was easy enough for restaurants across the country to meet COVID-19 restrictions by offering outdoor dining -- but as the weather got colder, that became difficult. Some enterprising restaurants in Colorado found a way to meet those challenges: Use refurbished ski gondolas.

Wait. Eating in a beautifully refurbished ski gondola so you can stay warm while visiting your favorite restaurant, all while maintaining social distancing from other diners? That’s so Colorado!

New Life For Old Gondolas

Dominique Bastien, owner of The Gondola Shop, said her company refurbishes gondola cars from Steamboat Resort in Colorado and Killington Resort in Vermont, an article in the Denver Post reports. Bastien explains that she and her team refurbish about 100 gondolas each year, and each one requires between 100 and 150 hours of labor.

“The gondolas we restore are mainly sold for private (owners),” Bastien said in the Denver Post article. “Some people turn them into offices with light and tables and heaters. We make saunas, and party ones with fridges inside, and lights and speakers. We did some for backyards for kids with a swing, ropes you can climb, and a little slide that comes out of the roof. We can do anything.”

As an interesting aside, The Gondola Shop is a byproduct of Bastien’s other company, Sunshine Polishing Technology. That company polishes and repaints ski gondolas still in use at ski resorts around the world.

Refurbished gondolas for dining outside.

Winter Dining

With winter -- and the cold temperatures and snow typical of Colorado -- looming, representatives of the town Mountain Village called Bastien looking for five refurbished gondolas, a Food and Wine article explains.

The cars, which would be shared among 12 restaurants near the Telluride Ski Resort, would be used as private dining areas. The town representatives later called Bastien again and changed the order to 25 gondolas.

Bastien and her team -- which includes a painter, welder, woodworker, and several other artisans -- began the project and completed what Bastien estimates to be a year’s worth of work in four months.

Wendy and Rich Tucciarone, owners of Mountain Tap Brewery in Mountain Village, are also skiers and mountain bikers, so when they heard about the idea of using refurbished ski gondolas for outdoor dining, they immediately loved it.

Mountain Tap Brewery subsequently installed three of Bastien’s gondolas on its patio last November. According to the Food and Wine article, each gondola, available by reservation, can comfortably seat six adults. Oh, and the gondolas have been booked ever since then.

“The gondolas have saved us this winter for sure,” Wendy Tucciarone said in the Food and Wine article.

A view of dining in a gondola.

Growing Demand

As you might expect, once pictures of the refurbished gondolas being used for outdoor dining began to appear on social media, interest skyrocketed. Bastien told Food and Wine that she has been called by restaurants in Cleveland; Washington, D.C.; St. Louis; San Francisco; Park City, Utah; and Sun Valley, Idaho.

So, where else can you see the gondolas being used for outdoor dining? Two places are the Rocky River Wine Bar and Market, outside Cleveland. Owner John Owen told Food and Wine that using the gondolas keeps his restaurants open and his staff as well as customers safe.

George Eder, owner of Pizza Republica in Denver, has rented two gondolas from Bastien.

“It’s fun to see people’s faces,” Eder said. “They get excited [about sitting in the gondolas]. And that’s what’s missing right now from restaurants: that little bit of joy.”

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