In the 280-person town of Empire, Colorado, at the base of Berthoud Pass, there sits a gas station, a sweet shop, and a tiny burger shack that goes by the name of Empire Dairy King.
Inside you’ll find Sandy Cucinella, the co-owner who purchased the building 28 years ago with her husband, Mark, and a line cook by the name of Beth who smiles at you from the open kitchen as you walk in the door.
You’ll likely wait in a long line of hungry skiers and riders braving the evening wind and blistering snow for a bite of some of the best post-ski fuel. This cash-only, chalkboard-menu joint cooks up burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fried goodies. The Patty Melt, a calorie-filled medley of beef, Swiss, and grilled onions on toasted marble rye bread, is the mouthwatering trophy you deserve after a day in the bumps and trees.
Sugar for the drive back to Denver comes in the form of malts, floats, shakes, scoops, and soft serve. Cucinella, an ice cream lover, taste tested multiple soft serve brands before she settled on Sinton Dairy in Sterling. The result of her selection is a bang-up vanilla with a curl on top and a shower of rainbow sprinkles. Stop here and you’ll be heading home with a full belly, sore legs, and sprinkles on your snowpants.
*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Sandy Cucinella’s last name as Cucinera. We regret the error.