COLORADO SPRINGS — With El Paso County moving to level orange Monday, restaurants can return to 25% capacity indoor dining. And for restaurants whose business models depend on giving customers a unique indoor dining experience, the change couldn’t have come soon enough.
“There’s an old adage… do you know how you can tell there’s a pilot in the room?... We’ll tell you,” Steve Knatzer said.
Aviation is just what you do in Knatzer’s family.
“My grandfather was a pilot. My mother started taking pilot’s licenses… my uncle’s a pilot,” he said.
So of course, when he came of age, he followed suit.
“It’s in our DNA I believe,” Knatzer said.
But he couldn’t keep his passion for flying all to himself.
‘I wanted to do an aviation restaurant,” he said.
Now, it’s been 18 years.
--18 years since he bought the plane.
“So this is a Boeing KC-97,” Knatzer said. ““The first airplane built with an elevator and upper and lower decks pressurized.”
In 2002, he opened the aptly named ‘Airplane Restaurant’ near the Colorado Springs Airport.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “A friend of mine in Denver asked what it’s like to walk into my dream every day.”
It’s all about the experience.
“Everybody has to find their sizzle on the plate, and obviously here it’s aviation and the plane,” he said.
But with indoor dining closed due to COVID restrictions the experience just can’t be replicated.
“We get a lot of calls from people out of state that want to make reservations for the airplane,” he said. “We have to inform them they can be outside in our heated tent.”
When El Paso County moves back to level orange on Monday, that can finally change.
“It is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Even if that weren’t the case, Knatzer would still be here.
“My favorite part are my guests and my employees,” he said.
Doing what he can to keep sharing his passion.
“I have a 96 year old fighter pilot that comes in,” he said. “And if we weren’t here, where would he eat?”