El Rancho rides off into the sunset

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Metro Denver lost some longtime institutions this year. Pagliacci's.The Burnsley. Gabor's. And now El Rancho, once a dining destination for tourists and Denver residents alike, a place so popular it had its own exit off I-70, is gone, too. See also: - Historic El Rancho Restaurant has new owners and a new-old menu - Photos: Last supper at Pagliacci's - Gabor's will close to make way for a new bar from the owner of Providence Tavern

The Jahnke family had built the rustic spot in the Foothills in 1947, putting a restaurant downstairs and living with their sons upstairs. But the place didn't really take off until 1958, when Donna and Paul McEnroe moved here from Milwaukee and took El Rancho over from Donna's parents, who'd bought it in 1954. But it wasn't just the homey-on-the-range atmosphere and the spectacular view that brought in the business. It was also the McEncroes' dedication to both the restaurant and the community. During their thirty-year tenure, the McEncroes made El Rancho one of the Front Range's mainstays. By the time they finally handed over the reins, they were pulling in $2.2 million in annual sales -- up from $115,000 the first year they took over.

But since they sold it in 1988, even as the area around El Rancho has been built up, the restaurant itself has gone downhill. Skip Roush owned it for only a year, then sold the place that had been nicknamed "el rauncho" by disappointed diners to Mark and Susan McKenna, who'd owned a catering company in Los Angeles.

A decade later it was back on the block, and sold in June 2011 to Jesse Haubert and Jim Hartwell. "We will be updating the Restaurant, Bar, Conference Room, Store and Website with a new menu and exciting food and drink specials," promised the El Rancho website at the time. "Feel free to come in and enjoy our NEW 70" Flat Screen TV. Or come and enjoy our new appetizers, specials and entrees while viewing one of several screens throughout the restaurant."

But there's nothing to see at El Rancho these days. The website is down, thedoors are locked, and it looks like another legend has ridden off into the sunset.

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