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Blizzard Of Chaos, Part III: Cheyenne Dairy Queen Lobby Reopens After Two Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After more than two years of being closed, the popular Cheyenne Dairy Queen’s lobby has finally reopened, its owner told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

While a fast food restaurant reopening its lobby might not be interesting or newsworthy to most people, the Cheyenne Dairy Queen is not a typical burger and ice cream shop.

Because the lobby has been closed, it hasn’t been uncommon to see a line stretching from the restaurant’s drive-thru window and snaking all the way around the building and spilling — sometimes more than 30 cars deep — onto Pershing Boulevard, one of the busiest streets in the city.

As a result, the restaurant and the police department have been hammered by angry citizens demanding something be done about it because of safety concerns.

“Guaranteed that someone will get killed there,” Kayla Parker told Cowboy State Daily.  “No one obeys the speed limit, people are flying down Pershing at 70mph and then a bunch of dumbasses are sitting in the middle of the street waiting for their stupid chili cheese dog.”

Popular memes circulating on local social media channels, chastise drive-thru-goers for clogging a main artery and turning the street into a game of bumper cars.

Fist-fights have reportedly broken out in front of the restaurant too as upset motorists have either slammed into each other or come close.

Like Riding A Bike

Dairy Queen co-owner Randy Filbin told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that reopening the lobby was like it was like riding a bike — with things running pretty much the way they did before the lobby was closed by COVID-19.

“I’m doing a softer opening right now, because we’ve still got a lot of people training and we don’t want to overwhelm them,” Filbin said. “I’m not fully staffed yet, but we were close enough that I thought we could handle the lobby being opened, as long as we didn’t make a big announcement of it.”

Posts on Cheyenne-centric social media groups announced the lobby’s opening, which Filbin was not surprised by. He does not expect the lobby’s reopening to stay quiet for long.

Dairy Queen employees saw around 75 to 80 people come through the lobby on Wednesday, which is a few more than Filbin was expecting.

“It felt kind of good, having it open again,” he said. “It gives people an opportunity to go work in a different spot after being stuck in the same place and doing the same actions day after day.”

But don’t worry, the drive-thru was still busy the whole day.

Lobby Life

One restaurant-goer told Cowboy State Daily she was relieved the lobby was opened but still had concerns about the volume of traffic the restaurant receives.

“Every day it’s like Target on Thanksgiving Eve,” Rita Mallsen said. “The only difference is no one is trying to steal TVs.”

Pandemic

Filbin has hesitated to reopen the lobby since the COVID-19 pandemic struck two years ago due to low staff numbers. The drive-thru has typically been the more popular option anyway, so he, his father and their business partner decided to keep the lobby closed until they could get their staff up to a higher number.

According to Cheyenne Police Department spokeswoman Alex Farkas, 10 traffic incidents occurred in the Dairy Queen area in the last year. Five of those occurred at the Dairy Queen address itself and five happened near the restaurant between Duff Avenue and Pershing Boulevard.

Of those 10 incidents, one was directly related to the drive-thru. A collision took place as a driver was turning into the location.

There were two rear-enders at the Dairy Queen, one of which involved a single vehicle backing into something and another related to a driver being under the influence.

The police department also received a traffic complaint from the Dairy Queen address on June 2 regarding speeding and reckless driving.

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Liquor Is Inflation-Proof Says Wyoming Booze Expert

in alcohol/News/Business
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Ellen@Cowboystatedaily.com

With prices on consumer goods continuing to increase across the board, are some products inflation-proof? Liquor might seem to be a likely candidate.

You’ll get no argument from Wyoming State Liquor Association Executive Director Mike Moser. He said people will not drink less, but they’ll drink differently.

“People will continue to consume alcohol no matter how bad a recession, but they do it a different way,” Moser said.

Changes

First, they may downgrade what they drink. He told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that brand loyalty is mostly of the past.

“My dad and grandpa drank the same type of whiskey and beer for their entire lives,” Moser said. “But now, we have more products available. We’re more price-sensitive than we used to be and the alcohol and drink quality is just better overall.”

Second, the types of businesses that serve alcohol have changed.

Most businesses in Wyoming that sell alcohol have diversified their income streams, offering additional options to enhance the drinking experience.

“You don’t find standalone bars and taverns here with no restaurant or kitchen facilities or even a package liquor store,” Moser said. “Standalone bars and taverns have a much more difficult chance of surviving out here.”

There are a few reasons standalone bars that don’t offer food exist, he said. However, people drinking less is not one of them.

Responsible And Cheaper

First, the cultural attitude toward drinking has shifted, he said. It is not socially acceptable to drink to excess anymore, as it might have been a few decades ago.

With that shift also comes the legal ramifications regarding drinking and driving, which have also become much more strict than in years past.

People are more likely to have a drink or two with dinner and then go home, rather than hit the bar and have several drinks in one sitting, Moser said.

“People’s habits have changed,” he said. “It’s not that we’re drinking less, people are just drinking more responsibly. Not to mention, it’s a lot cheaper to drink at home.”

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich agreed with Moser except the part about drinking to excess not being socially acceptable. 

“At least in my circle, beer pong is considered an artistic experience,” Ulrich said. “And who goes to the symphony without doing some body shots beforehand?”

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Storefronts Filling Up in Wyoming’s Small Towns 

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The landscape of forlorn, empty storefronts on Main Street are a thing of the past for many small towns in Wyoming.

Jumps in tourism traffic and the oil and gas industry, along with an influx of city dwellers looking to escape pandemic-related restrictions, have given a much-needed boost to many communities in Wyoming, according to local officials. Restaurants are among the fastest-growing of the small town businesses. 

Jamie Jessen of the Sundance Chamber of Commerce said the city’s food service options are about to double.

“Currently, we have three restaurants,” she said. “We have a pizza shop, a coffee shop, and then a full service restaurant, but they’re not open for breakfast.” Jessen said two new restaurants are about to open, along with a Subway that could occupy space in a local gas station.

Although Sundance sits just off Interstate 90 in the northeast corner of the state, Jessen pointed out that the majority of businesses downtown aren’t necessarily tourism-oriented – they primarily serve the local population.

“We have a very large hardware store right downtown,” she said. “And then we have the banks downtown, the gallery, we have a chiropractor downtown,” she said. “There is a brand new gym and physical therapist that just opened up in a downtown location, and then we have a pharmacy that also has gift type items. The coffee shop is also a very large gift shop, and then we have a florist downtown that has gifts as well.”

Jessen added that the only store fronts that are empty in Sundance right now are buildings that are in disrepair.

“There are a few buildings that are empty, but it’s more due to the fact that they aren’t in great condition than the fact that they can’t have a business in them,” she said. “We had a brand new gallery built this year that was in an old location, and he just built a new building on an empty lot right downtown. And then one of our restaurant buildings that has been empty for a few years is getting a restaurant in it, so that’s exciting.”

According to Jessen, the town of roughly 1,100 people got a boost from people moving into the area to escape big cities.

“Real estate has really done very, very well, and there’s a lot of new people here,” she said. “So I think, there’s more people, there’s more need, and so I think it’s just become a more appealing place to open a restaurant.” 

Jessen added that tourism has been up significantly the last two summers, which has most likely made an impact on the types of businesses that have opened in Sundance. 

Greybull Chamber Director Deanna Werner said that while a new industrial park on the outskirts of town is the primary focus of the town’s economic hopes, clothing and food stores are gaining a foothold downtown.

“Right next door to the chamber is a store called the Flying E, and it sells local grass-fed meats,” she said. “There is another little fun boutique shop called the Wyoming Scene, and they have some really nice clothing shirts, jackets, sweaters, jeans and things like that. And it’s brand new, they’ve only been open a few months.” 

Queen Bee Honey, a Lovell-based business that opened in 1976, has a large presence downtown in the building that was the home of Probst Western Wear for dozens of years.

Like many small towns in Wyoming, when the Shopko closed its doors in Greybull several years ago it left locals scrambling for an all-purpose store.

“I’m looking for something like Ben Franklin, or something that we can, you know, go buy a pair of socks in notebook paper and a pen,” said Werner.

Much of the focus for development in Greybull is on the new industrial park, Werner said.

“The economic health is good right now,” she said. “And I see it growing in the future – for example, with the industrial park, there’s a lot of potential there. And we also have lots of housing lots for sale on the east side of town, so, if we do get the industry here, we have places to house people.” 

Matt Adelman, the publisher of the Douglas Budget, told Cowboy State Daily that Douglas’ economic health can boom and bust dramatically, depending on the natural gas industry.

“The last four or five, six years have been really good on the retail side with a lot of new businesses, a lot of new storefronts,” Adelman said, adding that new chain stores such as Dollar General and Tractor Supply have served the community well, as have new restaurants and coffee shops.

In towns like Douglas, however, tourism doesn’t have much of an impact.

“Tourism is a very, very small part of our economy,” said Adelman. “Hunting is a little bit larger and in the summer mostly people are going to Yellowstone or Devil’s Tower, stopping here and getting gas. But oil and gas and coal and energy related projects, that helps hotels and restaurants and are a much bigger impact.”

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California Energy Company Lays Out Plans For Newcastle Facility

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A privately-owned California renewable fuels company is eyeing Newcastle for a facility that would use various plant and animal material and convert it into jet fuel.

“Black Hills Advanced Synfuels project will convert approximately 500 tons a day of dead and diseased woody biomass to sustainable aviation (jet) fuel and diesel,” EcoTech Fuels president Linda-Rose Myers recently told Cowboy State Daily.

Earlier in the summer, the company began talks with officials in Newcastle for a potential location, possibly at an old sawmill in town, according to the Newcastle News Letter Journal.

The project is estimated to cost $389 million.

“I can’t comment just yet on exactly where in the Newcastle area we will be locating the plant, as negotiations are still in progress,” Myers told Cowboy State Daily.

According to an executive summary provided by Myers, about 80 people would be needed to run the plant and other jobs would be created during construction. She added more jobs would ultimately be created in the community to support the plant. The jobs created would include chemical engineers, skilled labor and entry-level work.

The Synfuels project is expected to produce about 1,150 barrels of aviation fuel or diesel per day for a total production of about 16 million gallons per year.

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Record Tourism Year, Lack Of Help Strains Wyoming Businesses

in News/Tourism/Business
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been a busy summer for Wyoming’s tourism industry. 

Yellowstone National Park is setting visitation records — in June of this year, over 938,000 people visited the park.

That broke the previous all-time high number for June visitation set in 2016 by almost 100,000.

For park gateway communities, that means business has been good. But it has also put a strain on businesses already suffering from a shortage of workers.

Ryan Hauck, the Park County Travel Council’s executive director, said he was enthusiastic about the number of people traveling to — and through — Cody.

“We are seeing record numbers all throughout Park County,” he said. “I know our guest and dude ranches are doing amazing, our attractions are doing amazing, our restaurants are full.”

Hauck said attractions and retailers in the towns just east of Yellowstone are reporting not just their best June ever, but their overall best month ever. However, Hauck admitted the high number of visitors is causing an unintended negative effect because of a limited workforce.

“You kind of get worried about, you know, that traveler experience,” he said. “Is our destination holding up to the demand?”

Restaurant owners in Cody said the demand has been taxing — especially in light of the labor shortage that has impacted small businesses throughout the country. Susan Cory has owned Peter’s Cafe in Cody for nine years, but has worked at the small sandwich and ice cream shop for over 30.

“We can’t keep up,” she said. “I’m having to double staff breakfast, because it’s that busy, so it’s making me short-staffed for our closing shift.”

According to Donna Lester at the Workforce Service office in Cody, across the region, the number of people actively looking for work has dwindled to almost nothing. 

“In June I was in five different states. I traveled to Idaho, through Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, and it is everywhere,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing – the workforce has just kind of disappeared.”

The lack of workers, coupled with the increase in tourism, means that visitor experience that Hauck referenced has definitely been impacted.

“A lot of our local businesses aren’t opening until (4 p.m.), or they’re closing parts of the day or certain days of the week,” Lester said. “You know, just today I went to meet somebody for lunch, and they had gone to three different places to try to have lunch, and either they couldn’t get in because it was packed, or because the other places weren’t open.”

So business owners like Cory are working around the clock, and closing one or two days a week to best use the staff they have.

“I normally run with 14 people, we’ve been running with nine and 10,” she said. “And they’re getting burned out, because I had two applicants, and they were both 14 year olds, so I hired both of them. I have never not had a stack of applications to go through.”

Cory’s predicament is just one example of a scenario that is playing out all across the region. Business owners who are already overwhelmed with the number of tourists who are in town are having to work extra hours — and there’s no relief in sight.

“I don’t have an extra person to cover when people call off,” Cory said. “And it’s just going to get worse in the next three weeks when we lose all our high school kids.”

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Invention of Taco Johns potato ole

in Food and Beverage/Business
1463

By Cowboy State Daily

If you’ve ever eaten at a Taco Johns you know about the potato ole.

That crispy, crunchy, salty, seasoned tater tot so good you would never call it just a tater tot. But how did the potato ole become a central player on the menu of a Mexican fast-food joint?

We’ve got the skinny on the history of the deep fried delicacy that almost burned out before it blew up as a west-Mex sensation.

College, city, state help workers displaced by Western Sugar closure

in News/Agriculture/Business
A forklift loading sugar into semi trailer, ALT=Western Sugar layoffs hit 200 Torrington workers
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

City, state and educational institutions are stepping up to help the almost 200 Western Sugar Cooperative employees in Torringon who will soon be out of work with the closure of the cooperative’s plant there.

“We’ve done a rapid response already, and we have one planned in mid-March,” said Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Torrington Center Manager Gilbert Servantez. “(A rapid response is) a core team that meets with individuals that are going to be laid off and lets them know what services we can provide.”

As first reported by the Torrington Telegram, Western Sugar recently announced they planned to layoff 193 employees from the Torrington facility by mid-March. The layoffs are predicted to be permanent, and Western Sugar attributed the workforce reduction to evolving business needs, the Telegram reported.

Many of the employees at the plant are seasonal. However, Western Sugar would not respond to requests for additional information or comment.

Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said the news of the layoffs was not surprising, because Western Sugar announced a coming round of layoffs in 2016, but the timing of the move is less than ideal.

“Western Sugar is not our only problem — just this weekend we had a major fire downtown,” Adams said, explaining no one was hurt, but a major business was shut down. “In the last year, we also heard the South Morrill yards, a Union Pacific engine repair facility, was closing. We had quite a few people working at that facility.”

In office for just more than a month, Adams said he’s got a lot on his plate, but he’s not going to let that stop the city from pitching in to help the soon-to-be laid off Western Sugar employees.

“We’re working directly with (Servantez) on all the things he’s trying to do,” the mayor said. “All my departments have been told to consider Western Sugar people who are slated to lose their jobs when an opening comes up.”

As part of the rapid response core team, Adams said the city is also working with the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation — Wyoming’s only economic development organization funded by an optional local sales tax — to explore economic effects the layoffs might have on the area and offer dislocated employees opportunities for opening new businesses. The Goshen County Economic Development Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.

Servantez said another key member of the rapid response team was WDWS unemployment insurance staff.

“That was probably one of the most important core partners,” he said. “There was a lot of questions regarding unemployment insurance.”

Some of the workers could also be eligible for WDWS dislocated worker funding, Servantez added.

“When a business closes down such as Western Sugar, and there is no other place for the workers to go in regards to their skill sets, they qualify for dislocated worker funding,” he said, explaining the money would be in addition to the employees’ unemployment payments. “They do have up to $6,500 dollars that is available to them for whatever it is they want to do after their employment ends.”

One of the challenges of the Western Sugar layoffs is they haven’t happened yet, Servantez said, so determining what programs and training opportunities could best serve the people affected is on hold until after March.

At Eastern Wyoming College, Vice President for Student Services Roger Humphrey said the school is reaching out to Western Sugar employees with information about high school diploma equivalency courses, single-semester certificate programs and other post-secondary training opportunities.

“We’re hosting a job expo scheduled for Feb. 13, and we encourage those displaced workers to attend,” Humphrey said. “We’ll have 20 employers from the around the region in attendance. We’re also offering seminars on employee culture and interviewing techniques.”

The college is also encouraging the Western Sugar employees to enroll for summer and fall courses.

“We’ve went out twice during shift changes (at Western Sugar) and talked about opportunities for financial aid to attend and how to re-enroll in the school,” Humphrey said. “We also outlined all the one-semester degrees and certificates that could potentially put them right into the job market.”

Servantez said it would be difficult for Goshen County to retain all the workers, but WDWS has prioritized finding former Western Sugar employees work as close to home as possible.

“It’s important that our community knows there are some options for these folks — training options and post-secondary options,” he said. “Our goal going forward is to find them work, we will do what we can to find them work here, but the reality is some might need to move to find work.”

With help from the economic development corporation, Adams said new jobs could soon be available in Goshen County as Torrington and the surrounding area push for tourism growth.

“Economic development is rebranding and trying to attract more tourism,” he explained. “We’re on the (U.S.) Highway 26 to Yellowstone (National Park), we’re on (U.S.) Highway 85 to Devil’s Tower — there’s things looking to the future that are positive, and that hopefully we can build on.”

Whatever the path forward may be for Torrington and the Western Sugar employees, Adams said they would work on it together.

“I don’t know that it will be rather quickly, but we will overcome this,” he said.

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