Barbara Lawlor, Boulder County. After 27 years as a waitress and 19 years as the owner of the Sundance Cafe, Hillary Stevenson’s last day will be this Sunday, April 16. Last week she and her husband Cary Griner decided the hike in rent is financially unattainable and they and their employees will be moving on. They were told the new owners wanted to be in by the beginning of May.
Hillary says the Sundance has become home to her and the staff is her family. Since last weekend, when word got out on social media, people have been stopping by to offer their condolences, good lucks and hugs, words which usually end up in communal tears.
On Sunday, after 2:30 p.m. people will gather to say goodbye to the woman who turned the Sundance into a welcoming, friendly place that had consistently great food. At least as good as the view.
Hillary came to the area in 1990, finding a job as a lift operator at Eldora Mountain Resort and working part time at the Sundance as a waitress, when Aki von Mende managed the restaurant. She knew that friendly, competent service will bring a customer back just as quickly as excellent food.
Four years later, Aki left to own his own restaurant and Chris Terp became the owner of the business. In 1997, he was ready to sell. She didn’t have enough money to buy it but her father, “who always wanted to own a tavern in the mountains,” was interested. It was a done deal and a good deal.
At the time Hillary said, “This is a good business venture…after eight years, I have built up my own clientele who come in when they know I am working.
The area is exploding and business is consistent and we will always have the Number One breakfast.”
After eight years, she had discovered that she was good at what she did and she loved the interaction with people. She also developed a feel for running the business. Owning the business suited her and she soon built up a family of employees.
Hillary worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, except for her one month vacation in Mexico, the location of which will forever remain a secret.
For the most part, the Sundance Cafe has remained status quo, without much need for change. If it’s works, don’t mess with it.
Last weekend a family came in, after 15 years from their introduction to the Sundance, ecstatic that they could order the same items from the menu, the pork chop and the Number One breakfast. The food is as good as ever.
On Monday, Katy Nielsen burst into the restaurant to give Hillary a hug. She remembers coming to the Sundance and hanging out with former owner Hans von Mende’s daughter when they were kids, sliding down the hill in the back and playing Yahtzee. “Hillary and the Sundance were a staple in my life.”
It’s been a hard time for Hillary. In January, her mother died of a heart attack at the age of 81. The last conversation they had was her mother’s concern that she stayed at the Sundance.
Hillary says she will take her 14-year old goldfish with her, but beyond that she plans to take the summer off, camping and spending time in Mexico.
“After that I’m not sure what we will do.”
There will be a party for her employees, former employees and loyal customers who come to say goodbye after 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 16.