Edmonds had driven from north Fort Collins for lunch at the 13-year-old restaurant only to be turned away.
The Carino's employee encouraged Edmonds to visit the Loveland restaurant at Centerra.
"No, I won't go out that way," said Edmonds, one of a handful of lunch customers turned away Tuesday as employees wandered in and out collecting their final checks and severance pay.
The restaurant, along with one in Westminster, at 10633 Westminster Blvd., shut down Tuesday morning as part of a corporate strategy to move to smaller, more efficient restaurants, the CEO of Carino's holding company said Tuesday.
Both restaurants were underperforming, and their leases were up, said Creed Ford III, CEO of Fired Up Inc., Carino's holding company.
"Markets have shifted in the immediate area, traffic shifted and some of the retail shifted," Ford said. "We're still excited about both markets but not necessarily renewing the leases that we had."
Customers Steve Stansfield and Jeffrey Doran stopped by, hoping for one last lunch.
The real estate agents heard through the industry grapevine the restaurant might be closing. They were surprised to find it already had.
"It's disappointing," said Doran of Realtec Commercial. "It was a great family place. My wife enjoyed it; my kids enjoyed it."
Fort Collins' 40 employees learned of the closure Tuesday morning. All were given opportunities to move to restaurants in Loveland or Greeley, said Chris Nash, area director of the Loveland and Fort Collins restaurants, who was overseeing the last few hours of the operation.
The restaurant, which opened in 1997, was the first Carino's in Colorado and one of the first in the country. "We're losing a little bit of our history today, too," Nash said.
The economy played a role, certainly, in the closing, Nash said. Revenue was down year over year, a result of the economic downturn and increased competition along Harmony Road.
Ironically, some of that competition has come from McAlister's Deli on Harmony, which delivered lunch to Carino's employees still closing up the place Tuesday.
All the food was gone, and the equipment was in the process of being mothballed.
Ford said the College Avenue restaurant might be gone, but it might not be the last of Carino's in Fort Collins.
They've "got their name on" a possible restaurant in the planned Riverwalk project at Interstate 25 and Harmony Road, as well as some other areas, Ford said.
Carino's, a national chain, has been scaling back for the past three years. Forbes magazine recently listed it among 10 restaurant companies that have suffered the highest percentage of closings among chains with at least 50 locations.
Carino's has lost a net 25 restaurants since 2007 from New Jersey to California. It has closed two in Colorado and opened two this year, Ford said.
Casual dining restaurants, such as Carino's, find themselves caught between fast-food chains, which are relatively cheap to operate and fine-dining restaurants, which demand a premium price, the magazine reported.
"The people most affected by the downturn in the economy are the majority of our customers," Ford said. "Luckily, I don't think people have lost their desire to be entertained and go out and have fun, but they have gotten more concerned about their disposable income," he said.
In theory, Carino's should have benefited from the downward compression of customers foregoing the "white-tablecloth" establishments for lower-priced restaurants, said Jeff Miller, program coordinator for Colorado State University's restaurant and resort management program.
"Everyone is having a hard time, but in this climate, everyone (diners) takes a step down, so (Carino's) customers may be going to more traditional quick service," Miller said.
As the company moves forward, Ford said it is looking at smaller restaurants, between 3,500 and 4,500 square feet located in small retail areas.
"A lot of casual dining is shifting to more efficient locations. These buildings are so inefficient and so expensive to operate; and I think if we can do the same volume in those, we can have a more successful business model," Ford said.
The building, owned by Grimm Family Investments of Hilton Head, S.C., is for sale for $1.1 million or for lease at $16 per square foot, said Cobey Wess, a Realtor with Sperry Van Ness/The Group Commercial LLC, which is listing the property.
Wess said she has shown the building to at least 10 prospective tenants or buyers, including other restaurants and potential retail establishments.
"I think the highest and best use is a restaurant," Wess said. "Contracts are coming in, but I can't say we have the perfect fit yet; but there just continues to be an awful lot of interest in this building.
"That tells you, if you have the right location, there still are people out there willing to do business and lease or buy real estate."
The vacancy leaves another gap on South College Avenue that is already suffering from an abundance of empty storefronts, including the former Texas Land & Cattle restaurant across Troutman Parkway from Carino's.
That building appears to be getting ready for a new lease on life after being vacant for more than a year.
The 6,744-square-foot building is listed for sale with CB Richard Ellis for $1.3 million and it is under contract, according to broker Carolyn Martinez, but she could not disclose the name of the buyer or the type of business until after the deal closes.
Texas Land & Cattle closed in January 2009 and has not been occupied since.
Other vacant storefronts nearby include buildings formerly operated by Circuit City and Linens 'n' Things, both of which closed; Walmart, which moved south to U.S. 287 and a new supercenter; and Toys R Us, which moved to Front Range Village.
Despite the vacancies, Wess said, "People are very much interested in College Avenue and this intersection in particular. Restaurants do well next to each other. It creates some synergy.
The Carino's location "is a good location, and we have priced it right. The activity is speaking for itself," Wess said.
Written by Pat Ferrier, Fort Collins Coloradoan.
(Copyright © 2010 Loveland Connection, All Rights Reserved)