Cortez Journal

A&W restaurant lures visitors at Ute Mountain Travel Center

Aug. 14, 2001

ROBIN MILLS, 19, of Towaoc makes a rootbeer float at the new A&W Restaurant in the Towaoc Travel Center. Rochell has worked at the A&W since it opened.

By Jim Mimiaga
Journal Staff Writer

At the newly opened A & W restaurant in Towaoc. Ute workers hustle to put together lunch for 30 youth basketball players as burly construction workers dine on root-beer floats, burgers and coney dogs.

"Business has been great, thanks to our staff and ideal location," says Tom Bradley, general manager of the Ute Mountain Travel Center. "I had forgotten how good the A & W root-beer shakes are — they’re classic."

The fast-food counter just opened, as did a coin-op laundry and arcade. A posh truckers’ lounge is upstairs with large-screen TV’s, comfy couches and showers. The large convenience store, ample parking and rows of gas pumps attract locals, vacationers and convoys of long-haul truckers moving along Highway 160.

"That market was too good to pass up for the tribe," tribe planner Troy Ralstin noted.

Apart from Bradley, the Ute tribe’s latest economic development has employed only tribal members. Utes are trained to handle all stages of the business, from sales, bookkeeping and ordering, to customer service and management.

"The business experience of the new staff was minimal at first, but training went very well and now we are up to speed," Bradley said. "Our turnover has been low, and already inspectors have rated us in the high 90s."

The 2,000-strong band of Uter Mountain Utes, who reside on a reservation split between Southwest Colorado and Southeast Utah, are chipping away at a dismal 30 percent unemployment rate, five times the national average.

Fifteen more Ute Mountain workers were hired, 12 full-time, at the new restaurant. Another eatery, with more jobs, is planned for an empty section of the sprawling facility, but no definite plans have been set yet.

"We’re working with the Towaoc community on what they want to add in the convenience store for now, like an expanded grocery section and more hot foods," Bradley said.

"The new restaurant could serve a wider variety of American food, but also with a focus on cultural foods like fry-bread and stews."

A grand-opening for the travel center is planned for the near future.

Copyright © 2001 the Cortez Journal. All rights reserved.
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