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On the closure of Furr's and the death of cafeteria food: did we ever enjoy a cheap buffet?

The last Furr's in Colorado is gone for good.
The last Furr's in Colorado is gone for good.
Jenn Wohletz

When I heard that the last Furr's Cafeteria in Colorado had closed, I was sad. But only in the nostalgic-for-something-I-haven't-been-nostalgic-for-in-a-long-time kind of way. Furr's had become a place I always talked about visiting as an adult -- mostly to see if it was as good as it was when I was a five-year-old regular there in 1985 -- but I never seemed to make the trip happen. A few things deterred me, like my home Furr's location at the Buckingham Mall being long gone, and fellow Westword writer Jenn Wohletz's harrowing account of a contemporary visit to a newfangled Furr's in Wheat Ridge, which finally closed this month. Long before that, though, I knew the magic was gone.

But that's the problem with a place like Furr's Cafeteria -- it is celebrated for what it used to be, a place frozen in a time when jello is still considered a side item (not just a thing you eat when you're sick and your body can only process red dye #40-colored collagen from pigs).

See also: Furr's Cafeteria: Memories should stop at the buffet's edge

In modern times, the buffet only seems to serve a purpose if it involves a shitload of fancy food you wouldn't be eating otherwise. You know, Vegas-style. Like the last buffet with which I overloaded my system on New Year's Day, which was a celebratory gorging of crab legs, sushi, ribs, mango salad, eggs Benedict and frilly desserts served in tiny martini glasses. It also helped amp up the buffet situation that we were in a restaurant with a three-story aquarium running through the middle of it, because we carnivorous humans like to see the animals we eat while they are simultaneously alive in a tank and dead on our plates.

Other than the illusion of decadence and high life that come with a gaudy culinary spread, the regular old buffet is a screaming relic of the past. Like a throwback to a time when "getting your money's worth" was actually something people said when discussing food that was shovel-able. Now it seems like the ideas of getting one's money's worth and satiating our palate only come together on a dollar menu. Or as a piece of my own family's lore can attest, getting your money's worth means an infamous evening at the NCO Club where my grandfather made my aunt put a baked potato from the buffet in her purse, because they had "paid for it, so it was rightfully theirs." Now that's getting your money's worth.

Trying to remember what it was I enjoyed about Furr's in the first place was a bit of a childhood blur, though I'm sure it had a lot to do with Jello and macaroni and cheese, staple foods of any American buffet looking to target toddlers and senior citizens. Mostly, I had clearer recollections of other buffets -- those of the Chinese-food variety made for hangovers and the "healthy" versions, like the Colorado-proud, totally early '90s Healthy Habits, which is now a liquor store on Colorado Boulevard. Or Souper Salad, which is still alive and well. Souper Salad I can get down with every once in a while, but only because I am looking for a VFS -- Vehicle for Sprinkles -- and that's something Souper Salad's all-you-can-swirl soft serve ice cream is great for.

I also recall walking into Wendy's a few years ago (which is so weird to type, because who walks into a Wendy's anymore?) and wondering where the salad bar went. Then I realized it wasn't 1995, and no one else enjoyed the combo of kidney beans, Bacos and ranch on a plastic oval plate of dead lettuce as much as I did. Wendy's probably had it right when the company ditched the sneeze-guarded germ smorgasbord and went for the bourgie sandwich market.

Though Furr's is gone, buffets will no doubt live on. So next time you find yourself in line for a trough of food, dump a little Jello out on the floor for all the Colorado Furr's locations that have passed.

Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies



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