COLORADO SPRINGS — The historic Flying W Ranch, famous for ChuckWagon Suppers, reopened Friday night at full capacity for the first time since it burned down in the Waldo Canyon Fire.
The venue opened for the first time last year during the pandemic, but with limited capacity.
"We are so excited to be opening, this is actually our second year open, last year being our first," said Aaron Winter, General Manager of Flying W Ranch.
With fewer restrictions, Winter says they are excited to be completely open.
"Last year we were capping it at 300, 350, some nights 400," said Winter.
Despite the recent labor shortage, he says they haven't had a problem finding employees. It's actually been the exact opposite.
"People have been coming to us in groves, trying to work at Flying W Ranch since it reopened," said Winter. "It's the younger generation that are coming out and trying to get jobs. High School, College kid they are the ones out here doing a phenomenal job."
A new trend that President of VisitCOS Doug Price says will start becoming more common for the tourism industry this summer.
"We're having to focus a lot of our efforts on high school students. As school begins to let out, there is hope that high school students and returning college students in the area could be of some help to us," said Price.
He says the tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic.
"This is affecting everybody. There is not a business out there that is not experiencing something here as it relates to a labor shortage," said Price. "There are multiple reasons, but remember we had to lay off close to 40 percent of the tourism workforce. A lot of them were forced to find jobs in other industries. So we haven't been able to pull people back."
If the shortages continue, Price says it could continue to have an impact on the industry.
"What businesses are experiencing is how many hotel rooms can I open up to be able to effectively clean, and that also has an impact on how many seats you can have in your restaurant outlets. Restaurants are doing much of the same, they're having to evaluate their capacity levels because there is nothing worse than over-promising and under-delivering from a service standpoint," said Price.
While Winter says they are staffed up for the moment, they're still on the fence for fall once their younger employees return to school. But they'll manage, just happy to have good help for now.
"The people here are young, they're enthusiastic, they're fun and outgoing. They're charismatic, they're punctual, they love being around kids their own age, and they love serving the customers," said Winter.
He says about 95 percent of their staff are teenagers or college students.