COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Customer confusion over moving to a new location didn't help, but the owner of the Big Train Family Restaurant said that negative impacts of the ongoing pandemic are what forced her to close permanently.
Last Friday was the restaurant's last day open, after 53 years of operating.
Big Train started rolling in the former Kmart shopping center near the intersection of Fillmore Street and Nevada Avenue, the most familiar location to many of its customers.
However, the restaurant was forced to move in 2019 when the landowner sold the property for a redevelopment project; a hotel is now being built on the site.
Big Train's last owner, Rashell Kolthoff, said that the restaurant moved to its final location on Garden of the Gods Road a year before she bought the business from a relative.
"I think a lot of the customers saw the redevelopment at the shopping center and thought we were closing for good," she said. "Then the next year, the pandemic hit. We were closed down several times and people's eating habits changed. We had a lot of older customers and they stopped eating out as much."
Kolthoff spent her last day at the business Friday, cleaning up and turning the keys over to the landlord.
"I'm going to visit some of my relatives in Texas," she said. "After that, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'll miss all the people who came here to eat. We were a family business the whole time, and I'm proud of that. We simply couldn't make it work any more."
What happened to Big Train is happening to more restaurants than we realize, said Jay Gust, a local restaurant owner who also is a member of the Colorado Restaurant Association.
"I would say not dozens, but hundreds," he said. "Of all types and sizes. And we haven't seen the end of it yet. Larger and traditional restaurants will have a tougher time navigating this pandemic environment. Smaller restaurants that can be more flexible will do better. But the challenge of drawing enough customers, having enough staff, paying higher costs and raising menu prices are things we'll all be adjusting to."
The pandemic also may play a role in the status of Navaho Hogan, another longtime, popular restaurant near the intersection of Fillmore Street and Nevada Avenue.
It's been closed since sustaining heavy damage in a fire last May, and the owner did not respond to a call Friday from KRDO NewsChannel 13 about the restaurant's future.
Tony and Beck Taylor stopped at Navaho Hogan to reminisce about previous meals and good times there; the restaurant is only a few blocks from Big Train's original location.
"We miss seeing the old restaurants like Big Train and Conway's Red Top and are sad to see them go," they said. "Running a restaurant isn't easy under normal circumstances and now there's COVID to worry about, too."
The owner of the Big Train building said that he already has received interest from several prospective tenants, but added that it will no longer be a restaurant.