New Sheridan

Plexiglass shields have been installed at all the New Sheridan bars and restaurants, a move aimed at keeping staff safe. (Courtesy photo)

The New Sheridan Hotel is as much a fixture in picture-perfect postcards as the mountains that create the backdrop for what is the iconic vision of Telluride. The historic hotel has stood at its post on Colorado Avenue, just east of the County Courthouse, since 1895. Its most recent remodel lent modernity to its cozy, 26 rooms while retaining the building’s unmistakable aura of its mining boom past. Then and now, it is an elegant, dignified nexus in downtown Telluride, renowned for its ambience, dining and superb staff.

The pandemic of 1918 was undoubtedly something the New Sheridan experienced, though little is known of exactly just how it was addressed by staff 100 years ago. Today, managing partner, Ray Farnsworth, and his capable wing-woman, assistant general manager, Cathie Seward, have gone to great lengths to create a safe and welcoming environment for not only hotel guests, but for those who visit the Chop House, Parlor Bar, the historic bar, the rooftop bar and the Phoenix Bean.

“We’re really trying to be diligent,” Seward said.

To educate their large staff — currently about 110 full- and part-time employees — Farnsworth and Seward availed themselves of meetings with San Miguel County’s public health educator Greta Neumann, who has been hired by the county to help educate local frontline workers about concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Conducted for both Spanish- and English-speaking staff members, Seward said the class held for the New Sheridan’s Spanish-speaking workers was particularly valuable. Neumann, Seward said, answered numerous questions about not only the health issues surrounding the coronavirus, but also the financial resources available to those in need.

“They were really engaged and asked a lot of questions. They felt supported,” Seward said, noting that one worker recently elected to stay home with a sore throat. “That probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gotten that education.”

In addition to the meetings with county health educators, the hotel and restaurant business also has numerous in-house protocols aimed at stifling the potential spread of the coronavirus, right down to little details such as separate containers for clean and used pens, smaller, one-time use menus, abundant signage and sanitizer at every station. And, Farnsworth employed a local carpenter to install plexiglass screening at all the bars and the kitchen area on the rooftop. From a business standpoint, the extra measures could go far to ensure they can remain fully staffed at all times.

“Health issues could impact staff,” Farnsworth said. “If 10 to 12 employees have to quarantine, it could affect our business.”

Like every other restaurant or bar with food service in Telluride, the Chop House and Phoenix Bean, as well as the bars, must operate at 50 percent capacity. Tables are appropriately spaced and sanitized in between seatings, and customers are required to wear a face covering — per Telluride ordinance — when not seated at their tables. Additional seating is created on the sidewalk adjacent to the Chop House and the Bean and staff makes sure everyone who enters the property is wearing a mask. 

“Everyone’s been super-compliant,” Seward said. “It’s helpful that the whole town is on the same page.”

Still, there is some pushback from some people, but hotel guests and those booking tables are made fully aware of local ordinances at the time of booking.

How is business during a pandemic? Farnsworth said that, all things considered, not too bad. He reported that numbers are similar at the rooftop bar, down in the historic bar and better at the Parlor Bar, which is located in main entrance to the hotel and Chop House. The historic bar, he said, has done a brisk business in to-go drinks, which can be taken into the common consumption areas the town established along the north side of Colorado Avenue.

“It’s a difficult time to be in this business,” he said. “But I’m proud of what we’re doing.” He noted that staff, which he considers a family, many of whom have been working there for years, even decades, has maintained its camaraderie and is working hard to make the hotel or dining experience as warm as ever.

“We worked really hard to prepare,” he said. “We concentrated on what can we serve with confidence and maintain quality. Lots of thought goes into operating this business. It’s an amazing amount of work.”

Visitors and locals can expect some menu changes. Chop House diners will see fewer a la carte items and more “composed plates,” a move that allows kitchen staff greater flexibility based on what is available from suppliers on any given day. There has been a general scaling back of the restaurants’ menus due to what Seward said were “skyrocketing pork and beef prices,” and even the outright unavailability of some vegetables.

“It allows us to be creative and less rigid,” she said.

At the Phoenix Bean, Farnsworth said they’ve switched to diner-type fare, a move he said has garnered positive feedback.

In the historic bar, a popular meeting spot with a strong local following, as well as a must-do for visitors, steps taken to protect staff health include not only the plexiglass screens, but also a shift to plastic cups only, and more trash containers have been made available. This will reduce the amount of customer contact. And to address the reality of inebriated people with lowered inhibitions, the bar closes at 10 p.m.

“Late night people tend to ignore the mask rules,” Farnsworth observed.

At the hotel, which at just 26 rooms is considered a boutique hotel, staff has been brainstorming how best to remain in compliance with the current 50 percent occupancy rate that is part of the county’s public health order. The phased reopening of hotels was implemented by the public health order and crafted by members of the lodging community, a subset of the Economic Recovery Committee of which Farnsworth is a member. The next phase bumping occupancy to 75 percent, originally scheduled to go into effect July 13, has been stalled by county public health officials concerned about a recent uptick in cases in the county. But, if local officials give hoteliers and other lodgers the green light, New Sheridan staff has a plan. In an email to Farnsworth, hotel front desk manager, Mike Johnson said length of stay would help the hotel hit the 75 percent target.

“If we can stick to our two-night minimum and have some three-, four- or longer-night stays, I think we can end up at a final weekly average of about 65-70 percent,” Johnson wrote.

There is a COVID-19-related 24-hour interval required between check-in and check-out for each room.

Operating in a time of pandemic is uncharted territory for Farnsworth and his staff, and even though they face distinct challenges, he’s found something satisfying about working through whatever problems might arise. He was formerly the general manager and has been with the company since 1997 before becoming fully invested this year. Seward, too, has a long history with the New Sheridan. She served as a bartender in the historic bar beginning in 1994, then left for a spell, rejoining in the Chop House, again behind the bar, in 2000. She left once again to start her family and has been back in her current role since 2011. Farnsworth and Seward are applying deft management skills and decades of experience in the hospitality industry to ensure the success of the New Sheridan as it weathers this storm.

“It’s been fascinating and kind of fun to have one foot on the accelerator, figuring out when to give it gas, or let up,” Farnsworth said. 

For more information about the New Sheridan, visit newsheridan.com