After 42 years in the restaurant business, Beatle Abshagen needed to consider an exit strategy. He started the Ore House Restaurant at age 30 with his business partner, Jim Arias, and, at one point, they owned 11 restaurants across Colorado. Years later, the Ore House Restaurant has remained under Abshagen’s ownership, and continues to be the oldest restaurant existing in Durango today that continues to be operated by the same family.
The family is about to get just a little bit bigger. After careful consideration on both sides, Abshagen is accepting a new partner in the business: his current Ore House manager and chef, Ryan Lowe. “After a run of that many years and losing my partner two years ago, I had some decisions to make,” said Abshagen. “Ryan came along with the passion for the job and the food. He also had the financial and business expertise to understand how the restaurant business could make the owner a living. He’s a rare find.”
Lowe began his work at the Ore House in 2002. Born and raised in Durango, Lowe was in high school, working the dish pit at the restaurant. After two years, Lowe left for college, and then he returned to the restaurant as a cook. Soon, the kitchen manager position became available, and Lowe applied. “Ryan came in and started kicking butt a little bit,” said Abshagen. “He changed a lot of things for the good and got excited about changing our model from what it had been for 40 years to a little more upscale and modern.”
When Lowe was promoted to the general manager position four years ago, he brought a vision of where the Ore House could be. Lowe convinced Abshagen and Arias to remove the salad bar and remodel the kitchen. He also continued to develop the atmosphere and culture of the restaurant, as he focused on local, organic and sustainable food and drinks. Lowe’s passion revolved around the restaurant, its food, and, most importantly, the community. “I believe not only in the staff and the management team of the restaurant, but I strongly believe in Durango. I want to continue our mission to support local ranchers and farmers and other small businesses in Durango. Before it was cool to buy local food, we bought local food,” said Lowe. “The warmth and charm this restaurant brings to the Durango restaurant scene is, I think, unmatched.”
The rich history of what the Ore House was and continues to be will not be lost. The college students who worked at the restaurant in the 1970s met their spouses as coworkers. Now they come back with their children and grandchildren. Snowdown was started at the Ore House’s bar, and Abshagen was on the original board. The Ore House is a landmark restaurant that displays the history of Southwest Colorado in not only the years serving the area, but in the actual history on its walls. “The stories go pretty deep,” said Abshagen. “A lot of relationships developed here at the Ore House after 42 years.”
Those sorts of stories are an integral part of the restaurant, and Lowe sees the retained focus on community as a priority. Abshagen wanted to make be clear that his decision to accept a new business partner is not changing the Ore House in a significant way. “Since the remodel, Ryan has had a lot of authority in the restaurant. He just took the next step to take out the loan and sign the papers,” said Abshagen. “I do believe the Ore House Restaurant is a landmark restaurant after 42 years and I believe we can retain the integrity of that under Ryan’s tutelage.”
The carefully developed culture of the restaurant will not diminish with this development and will only continue to improve with this new partnership. The Ore House the community has come to know and respect will continue as is. Community outreach will remain a priority, as both Abshagen and Lowe recognize the importance of giving back. “What we currently represent has been in the works the past three years,” said Lowe. “That’s not going to all of a sudden dramatically change.”
Lowe is a full partner, now owning 50% of the business. He will also maintain his regular duties as part of the restaurant’s management team. “I’m really excited to have found a local person with the experience and expertise to take this 42-year-old restaurant into the next 42 years,” said Abshagen. “He has a lot of talent and a lot of drive to do something big in life. He did his due diligence very, very well. It was only appropriate of someone of his style and intellect. I’m excited. I’m proud.”
Originally posted on the Ore House’s website during June 2014.