STEAMBOAT PILOT — After more than a month of having to turn away taco and margarita-craving customers, Salt & Lime is set to re-open its doors Thursday.
Rex Brice, who owns the Mexican restaurant along with the local chain of Rex’s Family of Restaurants, had hoped to open sooner, but repairs following an April structure fire in the kitchen have taken longer than expected.
“It was a small fire but a big fix,” he said.
Brice had originally planned to open by Wednesday, but some wet caulking in the kitchen stalled the food preparatory work.
The closure has taken a toll on the business as well as fans of free chips and salsa. Brice estimated the total damage from that fire — including the repairs and loss of income — to be around $300,000 thus far.
Despite the high costs, he said he has been paying staff for their scheduled shifts while the restaurant remains closed.
For employees, like Jaedyn Joers, who have worked multiple jobs to afford living in Steamboat, the money came as a welcome surprise.
“It really speaks volumes to how much they care about their employees,” she said.
Brice acknowledged some Salt & Lime employees may not be getting the pay they would have if they were receiving tips during a shift, but he hopes the reimbursements lessen the blow from the loss of work.
Some have also taken stints at the other establishments in the Rex’s chain, while others have helped to prepare Salt & Lime for the re-opening.
One such employee, bar manager Dani Garcia, appeared happy to be back behind her usual counter on Tuesday. She was nodding along to hip-hop music as she readied bottles of the restaurant’s three flavors of infused tequilas. Since last week, various fruits have been floating in a trio of tequila-filled containers: one with strawberry and pineapple, a second with cucumber and a third with jalapeño.
Garcia was preparing more than 20 bottles of the mixtures, in addition to the various ingredients that go in all of Salt & Lime’s cocktails.
“It’s pretty much like we’re opening a brand new restaurant,” she said.
On a busy day, Garcia said the bar goes through about six bottles of each tequila flavor.
To celebrate its re-opening weekend and to thank local first responders for their work dousing the fire in April, the restaurant is offering a food and drink special to support those agencies.
From Friday through next Thursday, June 20, the proceeds from a mango habanero margarita and smoked brisket tacos will go toward a program through Routt County Crisis Support that provides mental health assistance to first responders and their families.
Fire investigators determined conduction heat from the cooking equipment ignited a section of the dry wall inside the kitchen wall, sparking the April fire. Repairs have involved replacing damaged portions of the wall, ceiling and lighting fixtures, as well as installing fire-retardant materials inside the wall.
Careful not to be overly confident, Brice believes those extra precautions should pay off in the long run.
“There are no guarantees in life, but I can pretty much guarantee that we will not have that same problem again,” he said.