It’s 3 a.m., studying isn’t going well, and your eyes are starting to feel heavy. If you could just find a nearby place to grab a snack, drink some late-night caffeine and focus, all would not be lost. Unfortunately, you live in Boulder and the pickings are incredibly slim.
For a college town full of night owls, procrastinating students and late workers, it is hard not to notice one glaring gap in the local food scene. There are just shy of zero 24-hour food hotspots in Boulder.
Places like the University Hill Market and Deli, Lolita’s Market, Yellow Deli — and, of course, Denny’s and IHOP — have found ways to make the 24-hour schedule work, but before your entrepreneurial gears start turning, other local restaurants like Boulder staple The Sink say that logistical issues are the reason that the city lacks this niche hangout.
Only one of Boulder’s three 24-hour spots truly offers that hangout atmosphere that draws in studying students and people looking for a cozy late-night spot. However, West Pearl Street’s Yellow Deli isn’t open quite 24 hours. It closes at 3 p.m. on Fridays and opens up again at noon on Sunday. Though the hours eliminate Yellow Deli as a late-night weekend gathering spot, one of the store’s managers, Matthew Sohn, says that the Yellow Deli offers a much-needed experience for Boulder customers.
“Even since the beginning we’ve decided to stay open because the Yellow Deli is a gathering place for people,” he says. “We’re open 24 hours because the people need a place to go.”
According to Sohn, the Yellow Deli sees most of its business between about 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., but it sees an interesting mix of students studying and people looking for a place to relax well into the night.
“You really just can’t tell. It’s so unpredictable and diverse,” he says. “For us there’s a lot of times at night that we have waiting lists and nowhere else for people to sit.”
Though it would seem that students looking for a quiet study space away from noisy roommates would be the primary customer base, other 24-hour restaurants in Boulder say that this isn’t necessarily the case.
Ruba Wahdan of the University Hill Market and Deli says that while college kids make up a good part of their late-night business, the market sees other types of people trickling in at all hours.
“We see a lot of people from the Fox all the way up until 5 or 6 in the morning. People are starving late at night, and we are the only place on the Hill they can go,” says Whadan.
The University Hill Market and Deli used to close around 4 a.m., but has changed its schedule within the last few years to accommodate all of the customers that would stop in right before or right after closing.
“We noticed people coming in after close and there wasn’t that big of a gap between close and open, so we just decided to stay open,” Whadan says. “People who have to go to work early, like at 5 or 6, like having a place to stop in before work and pick up cigarettes, coffee and a sandwich. We really are a one-stop shop, and that’s why we get so many people during those hours.”
At Lolita’s Market on Pearl, the working crowd is one that manager Lesley Perry says they cater to.
“People are getting off work at the mall and people [are] coming back from the bars,” she says.
According to Perry, the late hours of the night don’t tend to be the busiest, especially during the winter when people aren’t out and about, but she says that the people who do stop in are glad to have the option.
“Everybody is so happy that we’re the only ones open on days like Christmas,” Perry says. “We get people who don’t have family around, people who forgot to get eggs, people heading up to the mountains who need snacks.”
For the Alley Cat Coffee House, a popular 24-hour coffee and study spot in Fort Collins, being the go-to late night spot is a source of pride.
“We’re not open 24 hours because we make money. We don’t. We do it for the community. Our regulars really appreciate the fact that we are open all the time,” says manager Rick Newman.
Like the University Hill Market and Deli, the Alley Cat didn’t start out as a 24-hour operation, but management noticed a demand and met it, though they describe it as an act of fate.
“As the story goes, the owner came in to open up one morning and the lock was broken. He never fixed it,” Newman says.
So we are left with a bit of a head scratcher. With such a notable void in the Boulder cuisine scene, it’s difficult not to wonder why so few have swooped in to fill it.
According to Mark Heinritz, coowner of local institution The Sink, the restaurant hasn’t seen a demand for it.
“We used to have a sizeable menu through close, but now we’ve just got some easy late-night options for quick snacks,” he says. “The market isn’t that big for it.”
Aside from that, Heinritz says that from a logistical standpoint, there are difficulties.
“From a business economics point of view, it’s pretty expensive to pay utilities to be open that late and to staff it. You basically have to bring in something like $200 to $300 at night, and that’s a lot of coffee,” he says.
For the Alley Cat, staffing is less of an issue than figuring out times to take care of the business aspects of owning coffee house or restaurant.
“We have someone here anyway because they have to clean, so we train them to be baristas,” he says about staffing. “But when you never shut down there’s some maintenance things you have to deal with that would usually happen [while] you’re shut down.”