A half-dozen fresh aromas are rising from the corner of Main Ave and 11th Street this week. Whether your nose catches barbecue, burgers, tacos, sushi, pizza, coffee or mezcal depends on what matters most to your palate, for all of these scents and more are yours to behold at the highly-anticipated opening of Ernie’s and Eleventh Street Station.
With five food trucks and two food carts, Eleventh Street Station is the beginning of an answer to our food-truck envy of trendy northwestern cities. Co-owner, Marcos Wisner, says this hub shouldn’t seem like “one big guy,” but rather will strive to create individuality between brands. It’s a business incubator, with trucks leasing spots for six months to two years, he says.
“This helps them get off the ground, allowing startup businesses to have a platform at breaking into the food and beverage market,” says Marcos. “This model takes a more sustainable approach to the local economy.”
Born and raised in Durango, Marcos cut his teeth in the culinary world at three-star Michelin restaurants in New York City, Napa Valley and Copenhagen. The Durango High School graduate (class of 2006) explored international cuisines and foodie scenes for eight years before the black hole of Durango sucked him back in.
“When I was 19 and left to go to New York, I was looking for something extremely different — and I got it,” says Marcos.
Upon return to Durango in 2014, Marcos tried fine-dining and pop-up concepts, but found that these fell short of being accessible to most of the community. So, in 2015, he opened The Box on his dad’s property at 1101 Main Avenue. Food trucks, says Marcos, are an innovative compromise for introducing a more adventurous, ambitious menu to Durangoan taste buds.
“I wanted to take what I’ve learned and come back to elevate the food and beverage scene in my own community,” he says.
Beyond winning us over with scrumptious morsels, Marcos and his father, Jaime (the other owner), are opening Ernie’s, the eclectic fulfillment of all your 1950s-gas-station-throwback bar dreams, if you have those. From high-end domestic beer pouring out of the front end of a Bel Air classic to refurbished gas pumps for faucets, tires for mirrors and the retired Durango bowling alley serving as the bar top, Ernie’s puts the up in “upcycle.”
For 48 years, this location served as home to Ernie’s Triangle Service Station, a Conoco gas station owned by the unforgettable Ernie Schaaf. The lineage of Schaaf’s made their home in Durango starting at the end of the 1800’s. His aunt was the indefatigable Olga Little, the region’s first female mule skinner, outfitter and guide.
Ernie attended school in Animas City and later Durango High School. His service station and colorful character are remembered by many, and will now rise from the ashes of the former Durango Downtown Smoke Shop as the new everyman’s place.
Though he doesn’t have any memories of meeting Ernie, Marcos grew up with Ernie’s grandkids. Both Marcos and Jaime’s vision for Ernie’s is to be a place that locals of all generations will want to settle into for a coffee or spirited rendezvous with friends.
“We’re always selling cowboys, the train and mines as our history,” says Marcos. “I think this place will be something our parents and grandparents age can relate to. Community can build off the nostalgia.”
With 140-square-feet dedicated to a showroom for Desert Sun Coffee Roasters, Ernie’s will open their doors at 6:00 a.m. to early risers seeking a quality cup of Joe to pair with their morning paper.
“It’ll be a coffee drinkers coffee bar,” says Marcos.
Whether you’re looking for a place to chat with old cronies or a gathering space for a quick, tasty business lunch, Ernie’s and Eleventh Street Station are primed for meeting those community needs. To the delight of many Durangoans, their shaded, outdoor seating area is pup-friendly. And, as the clock ticks toward happy hour, prepare for a raging good time with live music on the outdoor stage.
When Jaime Wisner bought this lot in 1988, he first housed his travel agency, Discovery Travel. He sold that business in 2005 but the international flair is alive and well, as seen through the license plates texturing Ernie’s red brick wall. The Wisner’s have also brought their love of mezcal, Mexico’s darling temptress of a libation. With Mexican roots, Jaime and Marcos are excited for Durangoans to acquaint themselves with this product sourced so close to home.
“Mezcal’s what PBR was for hipsters a decade ago,” says Marcos. “It isn’t cheap, but it’s delicious and more regional to us than some cross-Atlantic liquors.”
Beyond mezcal, the Wisner’s will have a variety of cocktails on draft, ready to go for your sipping pleasure. Their model is “fast, and made right every time.”
“It’s all about speed and deliciousness,” says Marcos.
With the help of a First Southwest Bank small business loan, Marcos and Jaime are proud to present this one-of-a-kind watering hole and gourmet journey for the senses.
“[First Southwest Bank] could see beyond the standard formula and understand the potential this unique business model has,” says Marcos. “They were very understanding and flexible, willing to take on our new food and beverage concept.”
First Southwest Bank is proud to serve small businesses in rural Colorado, like 11th Street Station. We look forward to being a part of their journey as it unfolds in Southwest Colorado and beyond. Find more information on our community investments at fswb.com, and the local non-profit supported by First Southwest Bank, First Southwest Community Fund at fswcf.org.