The chickens are about to fly the coop.
After 45 years and over 5 million chicken dinners, Colorado's White Fence Farm will close at the end of the year. “We have been operating at a net monthly loss for a considerable amount of time," says veteran restaurateur Craig Caldwell, who purchased White Fence Farm in 2014 with Tom Piercy. "Efforts to create a profitable operation were not successful, and we can no longer operate in this capacity.”
Caldwell and Piercy bought the Farm from founder Charlie Wilson, a graduate of the University of Denver's Hotel and Restaurant Management School who opened the early eatertainment complex on his parents' property at 6263 West Jewell Avenue on what was then rural land in Lakewood. He converted a working hay and cattle farm into a dining hall and tourist attraction with a gift shop, petting farm, duck pond and entertainment stage.
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The new owners kept all that, but also had visions of expanding the concept with a farm team of outposts around metro Denver. But then the hospitality industry was hit by increasing costs, and the satellite locations they'd opened in Green Valley Ranch, Arvada, Westminster and Capitol Hill closed; spots at Elitch Gardens and the Pepsi Center also shut down.
The tight labor market ultimately cooked the goose of the original Colorado location. “We require 100-plus employees on weekends, and it was becoming nearly impossible to staff the restaurant with qualified staff," Caldwell says in an announcement of the closing. "We wish we could have kept this tradition open longer, but it was apparent that the changing demographics of our market were having an impact on revenue year over year.”
But you still have time to visit Granny's and the petting zoo, do a little holiday shopping at the Country Cottage and eat a whole mess of fried chicken (which is such a cult classic that a group of Denver chefs meet there every March to celebrate their birthdays and greasy goodness). White Fence Farm will keep operating on its regular scheduled until the last day of service on December 30; the staff will stay until then, as will the animals, which are already slated for new adoptive homes.
Before White Fence Farm buys the farm, you can make a reservation by calling 303-935-5945, or go to whitefencefarmco.com.
Editor's note: There's also a White Fence Farm in Romeoville, Illinois, which the Hastert family opened in the '20s; they licensed the concept to Wilson fifty years later. The Illinois eatery is still going strong, although it will close in January for some remodeling.