Jo Jo Ping would have closed her 12-year-old restaurant last August if it weren’t for her customers.
“My customers love me and asked me, ‘Please don’t go out of business,’ ” she said.
But times were tough. Gas prices were up. People were pinching their pennies instead of spending them at a restaurant. Ping could feel the recession coming.
She needed a Plan B if she was going to keep serving country-style breakfasts and lunches at Jo-Jo’s Windmill Restaurant in Montrose. When Gordon Allen showed interest in sharing her lease and serving dinner from 2 to 10 p.m. after Ping stopped serving for the day, it seemed like the answer.
Four weeks ago, the two began their arrangement. At 5 a.m. each day, Ping opens the Windmill at 2133 E. Main St. At 2 p.m., she hands the building over to Allen and the restaurant becomes Blazin’ Cajun for the rest of the day.
“I don’t think anyone’s done this before, having two restaurants in the same spot,” Ping said. “But us mom and pop operations, we’ve got to do something to stay alive. It’s hard fighting chains. If I didn’t do this, I’d have to go out of business. It’s not that bad, but it’s almost that bad.”
While Ping struggled to stay open, Allen struggled to gather the money to start a Cajun food restaurant. He tried to open in one building in Montrose, and it didn’t work out. He lost money on that deal and had to find a less expensive alternative in order to try again.
He knew Ping’s restaurant closed in the afternoon and asked whether she wouldn’t mind letting him move in while she was closed for the day. After thinking it over for a few weeks, she agreed to give it a shot.
“It’s helping her, and it’s helping me. It was just sitting there not having a dinner. With me there, it’s getting used,” Allen said. “With the economy the way it is, we definitely needed this opportunity.”
With chef training in Glenwood Springs, Basalt and Aspen under his belt and a childhood of home cooking in Baton Rouge, La., Allen wanted to bring Cajun food to Montrose. He also wanted to work with his son, who spent five days in a coma 18 months ago after a truck ran his sport motorcycle off the road. The restaurant gives the two a chance to stick together and pursue a new adventure without breaking the bank.
Allen and Ping split the lease payments down the middle. He pays rent for her kitchen equipment and switches out the menus with his own each day at 2. She buys most of the ingredients, and if he uses any of her food, he writes it down and pays her the difference.
Not all ingredients overlap, though.
“Naturally I have to chase the seafood a little more than she does,” Allen said.
Ping said she was losing $200 a day before Blazin’ Cajun opened. She hopes splitting the bill on the building and a recovering economy will help her get back to normal.
“It’s an experiment I hope works,” she said.