Rustic Station is a true story of Colorado community and grit.

When Dennis and Lynn Griffin purchased the commercial building in 2008, they didn’t know the first thing about running a restaurant. So the couple leased the striking wood and stone building to another local, who wanted to operate an eatery. He ran an ad in the town newspaper surveying Bailey locals on what to name the mountain diner at the buzzing crux of Highway 285 and County Road 68. Rustic Station was chosen as a nod to the former route stop for trains carrying tourists from Denver to Platte Canyon summer guest resorts. (You can still see the original tracks behind the restaurant in McGraw Park.)

Once that lease ran its course in a year, the Griffins found themselves back in a tight spot. “We had never been in the restaurant business,” Lynn says. “We were in the automobile business. So the [Rustic Station] staff said ‘we’ll teach you how to run a restaurant.’”

And they did that with great success. As one of just three restaurants in town, Rustic Station servers and cooks worked hard to keep their jobs in Bailey. The community endeavor brought in family recipes and daily house specials that have kept the American comfort menu original and current.

Food is made to order and cooked from scratch. Rocky Mountain oysters ($12) are plated with cocktail sauce and half-pound grilled angus burgers are served with guacamole, pepper jack, bacon, and fresh sautéed jalapenos ($17) or Western style with cheddar, sautéed onions and peppers, bacon, and barbecue sauce ($16). The popular burgers are messy—each one a two-handed ordeal with juices dripping down both wrists—but worth it.

Regulars know to order the chicken-fried ribeye ($18) with peppery country gravy or the beer-battered fish and chips ($17), and they never miss the Friday and Saturday night prime rib dinner (starting at $25 for an eight-ounce cut) served with homemade garlic mashed potatoes and veggies. The tender beef is sourced from Gold Canyon Ranch (a supplier that sources from Colorado ranches) and is available until the coveted cuts sell out.

A steady flow of summer travelers heading to the high country to fish, hike and bike keeps Rustic Station’s booths and barstools busy, and there’s a palpable dedication to making every guest feel like family. “My staff is just amazing,” Lynn says. “They’re all good-hearted folks. It’s a small town give and take here. We couldn’t be here without the support of our regulars.”

Adding to the community flair and the cabin-in-the-woods vibe, the comfortable roadside refuel spot drops jaws with its impressive taxidermy collection. The Griffins run guided big game hunting on their ranch in northwestern Colorado and started lining the walls with stuffed deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and antelope. Soon locals began to ask if they could add to the decor and the collection grew with homemade turkey feather fans, saddles, cowboy boots, antique snowshoes, and a larger-than-life moose watching over diners. With its pitchforks, wagon wheels, and saw blades, Rustic Station is akin to a living history museum celebrating Colorado ranch life.

“We bring the outside inside,” says Lynn. “Children are really wide-eyed and wowed by it.”

No visit to Rustic Station is whole without a gander at the dessert case. Reminiscent of old-fashioned mom-and-pop diners, the pie cooler offers all the homemade classics: chocolate silk, peanut butter pie, and a to-die-for, top-selling coconut cream pie with flaky, buttery, hand-rolled crust and sky-high filling rich with chewy coconut flakes and a fluffy crown of sweet whipped cream. Not a pie fan? There’s a triple-layer chocolate cake, and the house specialty Frankfurt yellow cake with Bavarian cream, raspberry filling, and white butter cream frosting.

The next time you’re cruising up Highway 285 to play in the mountains, do as the locals do and make a stop at Rustic Station.

1 County Rd. 68, Bailey, 303-838-1246

Lisa Blake
Lisa Blake
Lisa Blake is a freelance writer and children's book author living in Breckenridge. When she's not writing about food and mountain adventures, she can be found on the river with her son, pug and husband.