Arts & Entertainment  July 1, 2024

Estes Park’s cowboy dinner, show have last roundup

ESTES PARK — The Old West-themed performers who entertained tourists for years have ridden off into the sunset, but fond memories of the Lazy B Chuckwagon Dinners and Western Show remain in Estes Park.

Quentin Wedan, an investor who ran the operation in recent years, announced in a June news release that, “after five great summers over a seven-year span, serving over 35,000 suppers and performing 350+ live shows, we are no longer able to continue this summertime western tradition in Estes Park.”

After Lazy B was unable to renew its lease agreement with the Dao House Lodge, where it had been operating for the past two years, Wedan told BizWest, “I looked at 10 or 11 properties, trying to make it work for us long term, but with land costs and zoning restrictions, I just couldn’t find a place that was economically viable.

“I finally had to pull the plug in December simply because a lot of groups that booked family reunions needed to know,” he said. “I had already sent out an email to all the groups that come up every year, but I waited to run the press release until everybody had come to town for the summer and I had a larger audience to announce it to. A lot of our summer residents were great patrons of ours.”

Lazy B, patterned after such shows as that staged by the Flying W Wranglers in Colorado Springs, included a buffet dinner served on a tin plate and very loosely depicting something cowboys on a cattle drive might have been served from a chuckwagon. The typical meal was beef brisket or pulled pork, with baked beans, a hot baked potato, a roll, a cold peach or brownie, lemonade and coffee. The meal was followed by a show featuring western-themed music, humor and patriotism.

For several years, Lazy B Chuckwagon Dinners and Western Show was housed at the Elkhorn Lodge in Estes Park. Courtesy Lazy B

Attendees could also order beer, harder liquor and something the cattle-drive cowboys probably never had: a wine list featuring Cowboy Cabernet, Back in the Saddle Pinot Noir, Annie Oakley Chardonnay and Calamity Jane Pinot Grigio.

“We took pride in having an authentic cowboy supper, and live western stage show that always had something for everyone,” Wedan said. “I always thought the reviews posted on TripAdvisor were a great validation of just how special our performers were and what a great time families of all generations could have at the Lazy B.”

The attraction opened in 1962 at a lodge two miles north of Lake Estes on Dry Gulch Road. “We could seat 1,000 people there,” Wedan said. “It was a plywood barn with a gravel floor and 99 big picnic tables that each held 12 people.” It offered singing wranglers who all had performed at Flying W since the 1950s and took its “B” moniker from “Babe” Humphrey, one of the four founders, who eventually started the Flying J chuckwagon suppers in Jackson, Wyoming, an attraction his family recently sold and closed.

Tom Justin took over as owner and lead singer in the early 1970s, bringing what Wedan characterized as “the best baritone western voice of all time.” Under Justin’s leadership, the wranglers appeared on the stage of Nashville’s iconic Grand Ole Opry and entertained President Jimmy Carter at the White House.

Wedan began working at the Lazy B in 1982, with wages of $10 per night plus food. “I ate that meal every night of the summer,” he said, “and loved it every time. I learned the business from the ground up.”

Quentin and Roxanne Wedan, the last owners of the Lazy B Chuckwagon Dinners and Western Show. Courtesy Lazy B

When the Lawn Lake dam break flooded Estes Park at the height of the tourist season in July of that year, Bob Buford, one of the performers at the Lazy B stage show, recorded a song called “The Gutsiest Little Town in Colorado.” Dave Thomas, who was station manager at KSIR-AM 1470 radio in Estes Park at the time, recalled that “the radio station played it pretty much nonstop for weeks after the flood because the people of the town really came together to put the town back together again. That was pretty much the slogan we had after the flood.”

Even on the night of the flood, Wedan said, “we still served 250 people. It was a tough place to work, but after that experience, everything I did in my professional career seemed so easy.”

In 1999, just four years before his life was claimed by emphysema at his home in Fountain Hills, Arizona, Justin sold the Lazy B to the owners of the Step 13 addiction-recovery center in Lower Downtown Denver. “They ran it for a couple of years before closing it down,” Wedan said. The property then was sold to a private owner and was rezoned as residential.

“I have been there,” Wedan said, “and many of the original items — stage, tables, kitchen equipment — remain in place.”

An attempt was made in 2016 to restart the Lazy B at a local campground, but the venture lost money, triggered a dispute among the partners and folded after a year. That opened the door for Wedan to realize a dream.

“My main job was supply and logistics. I’d work with companies like IBM, Sports Authority and Dannon yogurt. I traveled a lot,” Wedan said. “But I always had my eye on having my own business one day. Lazy B was something unique and different that I loved as a kid.”

He said he and his wife, Roxanne, “knew it would always be a seasonal thing,” but reasoned that “if we can make a good run at this, it would be good.”

The Wedans restarted the Lazy B at the Elkhorn Lodge in downtown Estes Park, initially serving about 160 people a night in a space that could accommodate 180 to 190.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the resulting restrictions forced the show to miss the 2020 season. The next year, he said, “the Elkhorn Lodge sold to developers, we canceled that summer, and I spent eight months searching for another location.”

He found it at the Dao House, formerly Aspen Lodge, south of Estes Park along Colorado Highway 7.

“It was a complex with several buildings and a traditional lodge that at one time was the largest log building in Colorado,” he said. “We built a stage, converted the dining hall, and had 138 seats. It was different than what we were used to, but we found a way to make that work for a couple years.”

He even had some help from his family. “My younger brother Bjorn, who worked with me for 10  summers at the original Lazy B, also helped out as our sound technician,” Wedan said.

But after the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Wedan said, the lodge, which had been on and off the market for a year and a half, “went up for sale, and management wasn’t able to renew our lease.”

The Wedans had been happy to find what “we thought would be a good temporary location while I continued to pursue a long-term venue for the Lazy B,” Wedan wrote in his news release. “Over the past five years, my efforts included a total of 11 different ideas and options, including new development.”

However, he said, “with limited land and zoning challenges, the financial return on a venue for a seasonal business simply does not make sense.  Beyond development, other options included pursuing a lease at the Stanley Fairgrounds, which appears to sit idle and is underutilized so much of the time. Another great lead was land near Sombrero Stables on Dry Gulch Road.  However, after observing what the landowner, Cody Walker, went through in his effort to develop the Mountain Coaster attraction, it was clear this would be an expensive uphill battle. Other locations considered would have required going through the rezoning process at the county level, an expensive and yearlong effort that did not necessarily mean ultimately obtaining the needed approvals.”

Employees including some of the performers dish up Western-themed meals on tin plates to diners who sit at long tables. Courtesy Lazy B

Besides, Wedan said, “Estes Park is a challenging area. Land prices there are really tough. The labor market is tough as well,” and even paying dishwashers what they demanded — plus that free nightly meal — “was tough to get covered. Then you’ve got the housing challenge. A couple people would come into town just to be in our band, but we had to find them places to stay, and that was really challenging.”

The Wedans don’t plan to reopen the Lazy B, he said. “We sold all the equipment, even the tin cups and plates.”

All that’s left for the Wedans are happy memories, theirs and those of their customers. “I still get emails all the time,” he said, “and I loved bringing my grandkids there.”

For making Lazy B successful for as long as it was, Wedan credited “the talent and never-ending hard work” of Barbara Barleen and her husband, Michael J Arnott, whose “lifelong experience producing and performing shows that appeal to all ages was at the heart of our guest experience.”

His news release hailed the talents of performers such as local cowboy and author Vic Anderson, Jeff Olson, Marvin Short, Josiah Nelson, Celeste Johnson, Julian Oliver, Tony Douglas, Johnny Sanchez and Nicolette Feneis. “And not to forget,” he wrote, “several times we enjoyed a special guest appearance by local favorite Cowboy Brad Fitch, who also has a personal connection to Tom Justin and the original Lazy B wranglers.”

Catering support for the cowboy suppers came from Michael and Daniella Kingston, operators of the Big Horn restaurant.

“Roxanne and I will truly miss the tears on the faces of so many who enjoyed a moment of nostalgia and patriotism during our shows,” Wedan wrote. “At a time when our country seems so divided, I have always believed that our western heritage with the music and traditions that evolved from a specific period in U.S. history will always be something that we can all share, recognize and celebrate together.”

This article was first published by BizWest, an independent news organization, and is published under a license agreement. © 2024 BizWest Media LLC.

The Old West-themed performers who entertained tourists for years have ridden off into the sunset, but fond memories of the Lazy B Chuckwagon Dinners and Western Show remain in Estes Park.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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