THE ORE HOUSE
Story written by Sara Knight | Photos provided by The Ore House
The Ore House is so much more than Durango’s oldest restaurant. It has become a piece of the community. The steakhouse, in its original building on College Drive in the heart of Downtown, is a living, breathing, changing member of Durango. While having shifted and matured with the times, they have remained dedicated to maintaining a balance between past and present.
“It has become a bit of a museum over the years,” owner, Bill “Beatle” Abshagen explained, discussing the restaurant’s original art that was cleaned and refurbished in their recent remodel. “There is a lot of history on the walls, with historic scenes and mining scenes. We wanted to maintain the integrity of the history of the Southwest.”
The restaurant has survived, and even thrived, these 46 years on that kind of reverence for the past combined with an understanding of the needs and expectations of their current customers.
Every decision that owners Bill Abshagen and Ryan Lowe make is based on commitment to the customer. Whether that means serving the highest quality food in town, creating a cozy and nostalgic atmosphere or simply listening and going out of their way to make their guest’s visit a memorable one, the Ore House staff are ready to deliver.
“This is something I should give Beatle credit for,” Lowe said. “He always asks this question in staff meetings, ‘what business are we in?’ He is committed to this idea that we are in the entertainment business. At a base level, people come to the Ore House to be entertained.”
“I got to raise a family here, live here and enjoy the bounty of the quality of life here.” – Bill “Beatle” Abshagen
Abshagen explains that the Ore House is a special restaurant for special occasions and he makes sure that the restaurant staff understand that. It has taken many years of paying attention and evolving with the times to reach this point. The original goal of the restaurant was not quite so lofty.
When Abshagen and his original business partner, Jim Arias, first opened the Ore House in 1972, their goal was simple. “We had a similar vision,” Abshagen said, “to move to a quality of life location, open a restaurant, start families and be successful. We wanted to enjoy the life of skiing and fishing and hunting.”
With the support of the community, the two were able to do just that. Now, after half a lifetime, Abshagen is filled with nothing but appreciation.
“I just feel fortunate to have been able to find Durango at a time when it was small,” he said, “and to have had the people of Durango embrace us for over 46 years. I got to raise a family here, live here and enjoy the bounty of the quality of life here.”
Abshagen lost his long-time partner and friend, Jim Arias, in January of 2012. That same year, the Ore House celebrated its 40th birthday. The steakhouse was still going strong, but it was time to make some choices.
“When my partner Jim passed away about six years ago, I had a decision to make,” Abshagen, explained, “whether to sell the restaurant or to remodel and find a young person who had the energy to take over.”
Ryan Lowe was the obvious choice, a breath of fresh air, as Abshagen described him. Lowe had joined the restaurant staff for the first time in 2001 as a dishwasher when he was still in high school. He stayed through graduation, then headed West to California for engineering school. Lowe quickly realized what a special place he had left though and returned to Durango a year later. Eventually, while doing some local engineering work, Lowe heard about an opening at his old job.
“I found myself back in the kitchen,” Lowe said, “really excited about it. Instead of shoveling concrete, I enjoyed cooking much more.”
Lowe worked his way up to running the kitchen, then to a role of general manager in 2011, and in 2014 he became Abshagen’s new partner and 50% owner of the restaurant.
As Lowe has gained responsibility over the years, he has made it his personal goal to keep the Ore House thriving on the principles of a high quality product and a strong community focus, in every aspect possible. They order as much fresh locally-sourced meat and produce as they can from the farms and ranches in the area.
“That’s something we believe in,” Lowe said, “Giving back to the community that has supported us this many years. A lot of people think that because of our price point we are just a tourist restaurant, but it’s actually the opposite.”
“Giving back to the community that has supported us this many years. A lot of people think that because of our price point we are just a tourist restaurant, but it’s actually the opposite.” – Ryan Lowe
The steakhouse seeks out ways to support other local businesses. For instance, while the restaurant focuses on serving up the highest quality steak, they let Cream Bean Berry- the local creamery- make the ice cream on their dessert menu. Lowe explained that “if there is someone in the community who can do it better, then we let them.”
Even the tables and benches, added in their recent remodel, were made by a local carpenter and a local metal worker. It all just gives back to another local business and provides the customer with a higher quality experience.
This commitment to the highest quality experience echos that original principle of entertainment. From the moment the customer walks in the door, the evening is about them and what will make their night memorable. The Ore House is, after all, a special restaurant for special occasions and celebrations among friends, or lovers or family.
If visitors at the steakhouse dare to break away from tradition a little, Lowe explained that the à la carte nature of the menu is meant to encourage a more communal experience. He suggests that two guests dining together try ordering a 14 oz Ribeye, cooked to perfection with a few sides, perhaps a loaded baked potato and fried brussel sprouts. Choose a bottle of wine you’ll both enjoy from their extensive, world-wide selection, and suddenly the meal is transformed into a shared culinary adventure as the flavors become part of the conversation.
In a world so disconnected from human interaction, this is an opportunity to reconnect on a more personal level, through an act as old as time, the sharing of a meal. It seems simple, but the concept is far more novel in today’s society of the individual.
When you dine at the Ore House, you are participating in a quintessential Durango experience. The restaurant has thrived these 46 years because it is as much a part of the community as any person. It has lived a life based on respect for the past, love and appreciation for the community and a dedication to the customers they serve.