Living life on Grand Mesa
Just across the line where winter lingers, a Grand Mesa landmark was obscured last week by low hanging clouds and bad information.
The low-hanging clouds were obvious from the start. Any traveler could see from the base of the largest flat top mountain in the world that it was probably snowing at the summit, starting at around 9,000 feet.
The bad information came out of the town of Mesa, situated along Colorado Highway 65 about 400 feet higher than a mile. That was where one resident said Mesa Lakes Lodge, 3619 Colorado Highway 65, is never open when one hopes it will be.
That is not a true statement, said Andy Brito, the latest owner of the classic, Alpine-style lodge that features furnished cabins, a giant fireplace and a clean, modern dining room with a lounge and a live performance stage.
Before he took over last year, “There was a lack of consistency of being open,” Brito said. “The customers were really (getting upset) about it.”
The previous operators maintained short business hours only three days each week – and even that schedule could be erratic, he said.
That was bad for business, something some locals never forgot.
No more. Celebrating his first year in operation Monday, Brito pledged to amaze every traveler who makes the trip to the lakeside fishing resort situated about five miles past the turn-off to Powderhorn Mountain Resort.
“We are open 365 days a year for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.
Brito wants to show Grand Junction residents how easy it can be to enjoy a genuine wilderness experience less than an hour from town.
“Bring the family and let us do all the work,” he said.
AN UNLIKELY BEGINNING
For the business-minded, the story of how Brito backed his way into the fishing resort business atop Grand Mesa is at least as entertaining as the lodge’s food and the mesa’s views.
One of 12 children, Brito was born in California and raised in Washington, where his father was an auto mechanic and where he and other members of his family labored as migrant farm workers once they were old enough.
Brito did not graduate high school.
Defying expectations, he started his career as a serial entrepreneur on a dairy farm in Washington. By the time he learned to artificially inseminate cows, he decided he learned enough to move on to something more interesting.
He chose work at a factory, where he rose to become manager within a year. Brito managed factory operations until his youngest child graduated high school. Then he announced he wanted to make a change.
He had hunted and fished with his father and brothers ever since he was a young boy — not for sport, but for subsistence. It is his true love.
“I talked to my wife and I told her, we’re going to live the dream,” Brito said.
He hopped on a bright red motorcycle and toured Montana and Colorado looking for the best place to break into the outdoor guide business. Once in Colorado, he never returned to Washington.
The trail in Colorado eventually led him to Grand Mesa, where his motorcycle and a 401(k) were traded in for a chance at even bigger success on the mesa, he said.
On April 1, 2013, following a frank discussion of Brito’s strengths and weaknesses, local bankers agreed to let him do his best to turn the mountain resort around despite his lack of traditional business experience.
From his other businesses, Brito brings a stable of horses and snowmobiles, numerous ATVs, canoes and fishing boats, skis, snow shoes, fishing poles, lures — all collateral, it turns out, of a type the local bankers are willing to ascribe value.
He also assembled a great team of restaurant professionals to help build the business.
But that is not where Brito’s Grand Mesa sojourn begins. It starts with his work as a fishing guide, which led to the creation of AnG Outfitters.
LIVING THE DREAM
Brito emanates vision along with a confidence and commitment to carry it out. He credits God, the gift of gab and plenty of hard work for his success so far.
In 2008, he moved to Colorado. The fly fishing shop he launched eventually found a home at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center, where he was able to promote a variety of outdoor wilderness activities through AnG.
He leveraged the visitor center location to secure federal permits that allowed him to provide horseback rides, ATV rides, snowmobile rides, fishing tours, hunting tours and other outdoor experiences in the national forest.
By 2013, the opportunity to take over Mesa Lakes Lodge arose. It gave him a chance to consolidate all of his far-flung enterprises — and the animals and equipment that support them — into a single location.
“I don’t have a college education, but I’m not stupid either,” Brito said.
“In really simple terms – I am a believer and I do believe that if (God) wants me here, then I’m going to put 100 percent of myself into this place and I will do everything I possibly can to keep this place running.”
The future looks bright, he said.
Already, several weddings are booked for the summer, many more than last year, along with several family reunions, a lodge spokeswoman said.
The venture Brito once called the dream of a lifetime has taken a heavy toll. What started as a family venture in 2013 might now be considered a sole proprietorship. Brito said he and his wife, Gloria, divorced since they opened the lodge last year.
OPERATIONS MOVE TO LODGE
In the summer, the mesa’s pine and aspen forest, shimmering lakes and top-of-the-world vistas sell themselves, but how to choose from among the lodges currently operating up there?
“Food is huge,” Brito said, pointing to menu improvements made during the last year by Mesa Lakes Lodge executive chef Jon Dutton. Saturday night prime rib is a popular draw these days, he said.
Besides the grub, Brito said he has control of all the national forest permits he needs to provide just about any outdoor mountain experience a visitor may wish, whatever the time of year.
Guided hunting, fishing and other backwoods tours can be arranged.
Brito’s lodge can supply much of the gear and equipment needed to ski and ride snowmobiles in the winter or fish and ride ATVs in the summer.
There is Brito himself, of course. His expert outdoors services come with an entertaining patois Brito calls the “gift of gab” and nearby employees lovingly described using a different word, which shall not be reprinted here.
He can be quite charming and persuasive.
Call 268-5467 for information.