According to local legend, Minturn’s iconic railroad diner sits atop a decommissioned Union Pacific turntable—a device like a giant lazy Susan that rotates locomotives 180 degrees, enabling freight trains to travel back the direction from which they came. The restaurant itself recently executed a similar course correction, reopening in May as a western satellite of the Westside Café following the passing of longtime proprietor Darla Goodell, a celebrated local who operated the Turntable with signature spunk and flair.
Goodell’s quirky personality was reflected in the diner’s eclectic décor, which gave equal billing to Betty Boop, Coca-Cola, Mickey Mouse, Elvis, and the Broncos. But the Turntable’s dominant theme was railroading, namely, a scale model freight train that, like Goodell, turned heads as it transited trestles spanning doorways and trundled around the perimeter of the dining room ceiling.
“She was one of these people who was forever young,” recalls Goodell’s daughter Audrey Hanson, who inherited the Turntable after her mother’s death on October 6, 2015. “She had tons of friends in the community and loved to entertain children—that was a big deal for her. She would go to Wal-Mart and play the hook machine to fetch all these stuffed animals for the kids who came into the restaurant.”
Goodell, a lifelong Minturn resident, was born at the hospital in Gilman, a once-thriving Battle Mountain mining community that’s now a ghost town 10 minutes up the road. When she was young, she waited tables at several restaurants in Minturn and eventually landed at the Turntable sometime in the late ‘70s, quickly becoming the manager and caretaker for the establishment. It wasn’t until 2004 that she was able to actually purchase the business for herself. But making money was never a priority, her daughter insists; more than anything, Darla Goodell lived to make people feel full and happy.
After she died, the Turntable sat dark for months as Hanson and her husband searched for the right buyers: experienced local restaurateurs who would carry on Darla Goodell’s community legacy. Bypassing attractive offers from moneyed out-of-state investors, they eventually sold the Turntable to longtime Vail Valley residents Mike Dennis, Steve Solomon, and Ryan Thompson—better known as the proprietors of Westside Café in West Vail.
Much has changed at the new Turntable Restaurant. The Westside trio completely gutted the interior, accenting their renovation with railroad artifacts (most notably, the almost life-size black-and-white roundhouse locomotives on a dining room wall, enlarged from a vintage 4-by-6-inch postcard found in the retaurant’s archives). They converted the Turntable’s soda fountain into a full-service bar, as the establishment for the first time in its history now boasts a liquor license, which means fresh mimosas with chicken and waffles (pictured lower left) for brunch, and craft beers paired with live music for happy hour and Sunday football games. By July, they plan to debut another Turntable first: a full dinner menu with composed entrées.
As part of the deal, Thompson, Dennis, and Solomon also acquired the adjacent Minturn Mountain Motel, which will represent the group’s first foray into hotel management as they renovate and rebrand a downscale base camp for ski bums into a hip “adventure lodge” with rooms from $80 per night.
But the best things haven’t changed at the Turntable. The diner’s signature Boo’s Burrito—a pillow-size breakfast burrito smothered in spicy pork green chili—remains a staple on the morning menu. And as soon as restorations are complete, Goodell’s trademark model train once again will circulate around the dining room. That’s important, because the new owners want the reinvented Turntable to celebrate the spirit of its previous owner.
“We want to carry the torch,” stresses Mike Dennis. “Darla started a really good thing. She cared for the community and cared for its individual members. The restaurant’s position in the community as a meeting space for locals—that’s something we want to keep intact.”
At the reinvented Turntable, Dennis and his business partners foresee a confluence of everything that has made their Westside Café thrive since 2003 and everything that made the Turntable a success for so many decades—a mélange of American comfort food enhanced with Santa Fe spice.
“The Minturn community has roots in that part of the world, so it was important to continue that theme,” Dennis says. “Who doesn’t like pork green chili?”
And making people full and happy.
160 Rail Road Ave., Minturn, 970-827-4164; turntablerestaurant.com