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A Gourmet Find in a Most Unexpected Place

A must-stop for many travelers in the region on their way to the Utah deserts


Dolores, a town of 900 in southwest Colorado, lies on a two-lane highway, 20 minutes from Mesa Verde National Park and four times that long to Telluride. It’s in a lovely valley of pinyon and juniper merging to green aspen leaves against red sandstone cliffs. Still, traffic tends to be light.

Traffic might be lighter if not for the Dolores Food Market Unexpected Gourmet. It’s a conventional small-town food market with a twist. “Probably nobody does what we do,” says Tazz Vass, who founded the store with his wife, Linnea, in 1996. “I say that not to brag, but because I haven’t seen it anywhere. And I do my fair share of store tours.”

The store is a must-stop for many travelers in the region on their way to the Utah deserts. Statistical evidence also attests to the success. The 4,000-square-foot store has double the profit margin of the grocery industry standard.


Early on, Vass began buying from local farmers and orchardists. By his definition, local extends to 300 miles, taking in a swath of western and southern Colorado. Lately, the quality of produce in his own backyard has improved. A local farmer will pick four rows of tomatoes and deliver them promptly. From another, Vass might order all the apples or peaches from a tree. These relationships work for both growers and the grocer, but also for locovore-trending customers.

In this emphasis on local food, Vass says, he was far ahead of the curve. “I just wish I knew what the next curve will be.”

Well, maybe the next curve is a focus on avoiding waste — and Vass is already there. Most groceries, he says, pitch an enormous amount of food that is going bad. Or maybe it isn’t going bad, but the color of the meat is fading. At Dolores Food Market, the still-good burgers, pork loin and chicken breasts are put into pot pies, burritos and other goodies that are sold for $2 to $4 a pop. This portion of the business, the Gourmet Express, can do 40 to 50 lunches an hour.

Customers consist of both locals and travelers, and many are millennials. “Millennials want high-calorie and healthy snacks,” Vass says. “They eat six snacks a day. They don’t eat big meals.”

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Allen Best

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