LOVELAND, CO – FEBRUARY 4, 2021: An excavator operated by Shawn Main topples the top portion of the old Fatso’s Diner building while working to demolish it Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in west Loveland. The building, which was originally an A&W and has sat empty for years after a fire, is being cleared to make room for a new Culver’s restaurant. (Jenny Sparks/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

A long-vacant Loveland diner was demolished Thursday morning to make way for a Culver’s restaurant that owners say could open as soon as July.

As an excavator outfitted with a claw crushed the east awning of Fatso’s Diner and ripped away much of the building’s exterior wall, franchisee Jason Stentz stood nearby, grinning and filming with his cellphone.

The machine tore chunk after chunk out of the building, before the iconic blue roof finally dropped into the ruins and was smashed apart. Stentz, who publicly announced his plans for the building in June, said Thursday’s demolition “felt great” and marked the end of a “long process” of discussion with the state over traffic control on U.S. 34.

“We know it’s a big deal, since that building has been in the community for so long,” he said. “We’re excited to finally get construction underway.”

The drive-thru at 1606 W. Eisenhower Blvd. will be Stentz’s third Culver’s franchise — he and his father opened restaurants together in Fort Collins and Longmont in 2006 and 2016.

Stentz had the Loveland property under contract briefly in 2007, but Fatso’s became the last restaurant to open in the space in 2009.

A basement fire forced the diner to shut down in 2013. Since then, the property has sat vacant.

Stentz said he was optimistic that his franchise of the eatery best known for its cheeseburgers and frozen custard would find a hungry audience in Loveland.

“We’re just excited to be a part of the community here, and I have a lot of confidence that it will be a great addition to Loveland,” he said.

Watching from their home next to the property was a family for whom the destruction was bittersweet. Dorothy and George Skroch were joined by their daughter, Shanell, as they witnessed the demolition of the restaurant that George’s sister-in-law and brother had built in 1972.

Like the very first Culver’s — established in Sauk City, Wis., in 1984 — Stentz’s location was once home to an A&W, which the Skrochs ran until 2000.

“Sure it’s difficult,” Dorothy said. “There’s 50 years worth of memories in there.”

She said the family struggled to find a suitable business to take over the space after they retired from the restaurant industry.

Dorothy and Stentz ultimately credited the West Eisenhower Reinvestment Zone for making the redevelopment worthwhile.

The city economic incentive program waived construction-related fees and offered use tax credits for builders along a stretch of Eisenhower Boulevard until it sunsetted in 2020.

“Jason is a young guy, and really energetic about stuff, and he looked us over as much as we looked him over,” Dorothy said. “We were pretty selective on who we sold it to, because we wanted something nice to go in.”

Dorothy was hopeful that the arrival of Culver’s would help revitalize the strip of West Eisenhower that has struggled to thrive with the growth of business downtown and at Centerra to the east.

“We feel this end of town is missing out, because everything’s gone east, but that’s a whole other story,” she said. “We feel everybody should have some of that tourist traffic that comes through town, and we’re quite confident that Culver’s is going to do just that.”

Thirty minutes after the demolition started, Fatso’s Diner was little more than rubble.

Stentz said crews could break ground on the new Culver’s as soon as Feb. 15. He estimated construction will take about five months, meaning cool custard could be flowing out of the Culver’s drive-thru before summer’s end.

By MAX LEVYSpecial to the Herald Times