Lost Restaurants: B.J. Strawberries at the Convair

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It might not be quite like Proust and his madeleines, but the memory of a special restaurant can easily transport one back to childhood. One such place for me is an airplane—not airplane food, but food in an airplane, in this case one stuck on pillars near a small airfield between Boulder and Denver, Colorado.

Convair 990, Erie, Colorado, 1983 - Steve Nelson, from Modeling Madness

Formerly N5601 (and OD-AFJ), a well-travelled Convair CV-990-30A-5 Coronado, this passenger plane became, as well as I can remember, B.J. Strawberries at the Convair, a restaurant more renowned for being in an airplane than for its cuisine, but as a ten year old, the food was certainly secondary to the sight of a plane perched on stilts. Diners were given boarding passes to their seats, and I think the wait staff dressed in airline pilot and stewardess uniforms for that extra bit of authenticity. Lost to time is whether or not the menu items were airplane-themed.

(Check out Steve Nelson’s comments for updated information on this restaurant, including menu items, waitstaff uniforms, and the source of the restaurant’s name. Also in the comments is a link to a site with some history and photos of the Erie Air Park, including a scan of a newspaper article about the Convair’s demolition.)

I can find almost no information about this restaurant beyond suggestions that it closed in 1991. There’s a brief mention, sans name, of the restaurant in the September 14, 1981 Time Magazine:

At Colorado’s 40-home Erie Air Park, near Boulder, the local restaurant is in a converted Convair 990 jetliner, and the “parking lot” out front is actually a taxiway where customers can roll up in their small planes.

Quite a few converted airliners have served as restaurants. A search at civilian jet database site rzjets.net provides 48 mentions of such conversions around the world, though how many are still in operation is unclear. The concept is interesting, since many people have eaten airline food (or used to, given the airlines’ current woes and progressive in-flight service cutbacks), so the chance to eat “real” food in an airline setting is a novelty.

If anyone has any information or recollections about this lost restaurant in Erie, Colorado, please leave a comment below. I’m still trying to find my boarding pass from some twenty-seven years ago . . .

(Image courtesy of Steve Nelson from Modeling Madness)

34 thoughts on “Lost Restaurants: B.J. Strawberries at the Convair

  1. Valerie Trumbo

    My family visited many times when we lived in Denver and Arvada. I just came across a menu which I plan on making copies for my children. Whenever we had out-of-state company it was always a highlight to eat there.

  2. Jesse

    Wow, interesting to find this page and all the memories people have of the place. This place was quite literally one of my earliest memories, having flown here for lunch as a 4-year-old in 1985. I still remember the awe as a young child that the plane was actually a restaurant! My mom and I were just talking about that experience, as the family friend who flew us up there from Centennial Airport passed away yesterday at age 94.

  3. Bob Brown

    I ate there several times in the eighties, when I lived nearby. I recall the food was average, but it was all about the unique experience. I agree, it could have been done better, and the totally stripped interior was a bit of a disappointment, but I still brought visitor’s there.

    The most memorable dinner there for me, was one evening, a “Huey” from Fort Carson landed there, and its two army pilots came in to dine there. 🙂

  4. Woodward Tom

    We were talking about this today during Mother’s Day. I took my wife on our second date to the Convair restaurant. We flew a C150 from Arapaho Airport near Denver to the Erie airpark. I don’t remember any special outfits worn by the wait staff but the food was good and a bit expensive for a single guy. The sky’s were bumpy that day and when we landed back at Arapaho as I was tying the plane down she threw up the meal all over the ramp. I told her, “if I knew you were going to throw the dinner up I would have taken you someplace cheap”. That was 1981 and we’re still married. We always talk about that restaurant. Good times!

  5. Pat

    I’m pretty sure the magician that entertained you at The Convair, was ‘the incredible Lamont’, which the Times Call did a write up on him posted 12/29/18.

  6. Don

    As a Ports of Call member, I was on what I think may have been the last flight of the 990, from Phoenix to Stapleton. A few years later, as a student pilot, my instructor and I had lunch there on a cross country flight. As I recall, the food was ok, but the memories from actually having been on a flight on the plane were great.

  7. Ron

    I had traveled from Oregon Broomfield Airport to purchase my first aircraft. My Instructor Travis Panther and his wife Barbara took me there one evening for dinner. It was an amazing place to me. Since we flew in from Jeffco Airport, when it was time to fly back to Jeffco – I remember trouble free pre-flight and run-up. On takeoff, a magneto failed and was misfiring on initial climbout. I remember the rising terrain, and Travis taking the controls, turning back to the airport to land on a taxiway. He saved all our lives. Scary lesson, But the Dinner was great!

  8. Wanda

    I remember the restaurant. We were friends with one of the owners. My sister and I would climb around on the wings of the airplane as it was being built into the restaurant. Sadly the brothers co owner was killed in a plane wreck, causing the restaurant to be sold. Brings back many good memories.

  9. Michelle Boulter

    I will and thank you as well. It does bring back good memories and I am sure glad to have been part of it as well. I will pass it on to the family. Have good days.

  10. Michelle, thank you for sharing your experiences here. As I hope is evident, B.J. Strawberries played a meaningful role in the lives of a lot of people. Please pass along our appreciation to Jean, Rick, and the rest of the “crew” for what they gave us.

  11. Michelle Boulter

    I am the niece of Bob & Jean Rush and yes that was the ‘B J’. Ironically my younger sisters middle name is B. J., which was told just that, B dot J dot. I worked and ate there for years. My mom, Jean’s sister, met her current husband there, still married 20+ years later. I am sure meeting one of those nights she was playing Mrs. Pacman, smoking and drinking rum and coke. A little like ‘Cheers’ as my mom would say (following a bitter divorce), when coming home. The food was decent, the Chef’s name was Tiny, although quite opposite in size, from what I recall. The desserts more memorable as it was my Grandma Rose who made the chocolate and carrot cake, having to sneak a piece every now and then because it was there to make money. On special occasions, we would dress up and I would feel important cause we would sit in the cockpit or tail of the plane and enjoy a great dinner, followed with a treat, the chocolate covered strawberries. Picking that dessert, always knowing that Grammy was good for the cake, later. I worked as a busser and a dishwasher, Rick my cousin, is why I have the great work ethic I have today. He held us to his expectations and did try to have the reputation of a little upscale environment. He was fairly strict, and we had good servers. It was a one of a kind. Then the recession hit in 1986. Divorced, just getting her realators license, no one buying houses, and business soon following, my mom moved us up to Port Townsend, Washington where Bob and Jean soon followed. That is a whole other chapter. Bob got sick and passed away. Jean, still living, in Arizona. Rick and Wife, Kim, of many years, live in the Seattle area where he continues to manage a popular Northwest Restaurant Chain. B J strawberries WAS my young adulthood.

  12. Will

    My wife and I lived in Thornton for several years, and we remember “BJ Strawberries” well. I was an air traffic controller for 15 years at the old Stapleton airport, and remember a few real 990’s operating out of there. I think it was called “Ports of Call,” but anyway they flew two or three of them out of Stapleton. We used to laugh at some of the inexperienced controllers who would pack those 990’s exactly three miles behind other traffic, only to discover the 990’s had a much higher approach speed than typical air carrier aircraft, around 180 knots or thereabouts, and they would often have to be sent around because they overtook the aircraft they were following. Once you had handled a few of them, you learned not to put them closer than about 4 miles behind other traffic on final approach.

    Sure, dining at the Erie Convair wasn’t a 5-star experience, but was unique and a lot of fun, especially for aviation enthusiasts, and how many of us can say we had dinner in a Convair 990? It was certainly a memorable experience, and I remember the food coming up on the dumb waiter. All in all it was something that everyone should do at least once, and I’m happy to say we had this experience under our belt. We left Colorado in the early 90’s and I understand the aircraft was finely taken away and reduced to scrap around 1996 or thereabouts. Definitely a little piece of aviation history though.

  13. Karen

    On our first date in 1981, my cute hubby rented an airplane and surprised me with lunch at the Convair! Don’t remember much about the food other than he did a wingover on the way home and I lost my lunch once we touched back down. Sorry to hear that it has been torn down. I’ve had the cute hubby for 32 years!

  14. Lynn

    My good friend worked there during our high school days in 1986/87…I lived in the back roads of Lafayette and would walk out there ..I actually never ate there but remember it well

  15. In 1985 a NASA-owned Convair 990 crashed during take-off. We used it as a platform for testing instruments and techniques for future space-borne instruments. Fortunately, nobody was even hurt. One of the instrument operators saw flames coming from under the wings and was able to get a message to the pilot almost instantly using closed circuit communications, and the take-off was successful aborted. The plane was destroyed by the fire, but we eventually flew space-borne versions of the various instruments we first tested there.

    The 990 was a critical part of the program in geology, hydrology and ecology that I was managing, and I convened a small group of users to decide how we should proceed. This was a side meeting at a larger meeting in Boulder, and when I learned of the Convair 990 restaurant, I knew that we had to meet there. The restaurant management was amused and intrigued by my request and explanation of why we were coming there. They reserved the table in the cockpit for us. It was trapezoidal in shape. My colleagues from JPL, NASA Goddard and NASA Ames gleefully insisted that, as Program head, I should sit at the “head” of the table … facing backwards, as was deemed appropriate for “management”.

  16. Dan

    I graduated from Boulder High in 1983, and did nothing but party around the area for a couple of years, as did many of my contemporaries. I remember eating there in 1984 with some friends…after tuning our minds to a different plane, we ate on the plane. The picture is as I sort of remember it.

  17. Alphone

    I was the senior lender at the bank that did the construction loan for this place. The folks that owned it were a buncy of latter day flying circus types that operated a charter service out of the adjacent Broomfield Airport.

  18. LOL. I was the bartender for a very short while there. I loved working there. The old timer pilots would take me up for rides in their planes. Did the country’s first woman to fly an ultra light across country live in Erie? My name was randall then. I use to be the entertainment director of the harvest house way before I worked there. Great memories.

  19. Connie

    I remember the Convair well. We used to hanger our Twin Beech Baron there at their airport and we lived for a short time at the airport in one of the homes. We frequented B.J. Strrawberries a lot and we even had my husband’s 50th birthday party there! Rick was fabulous and the food was awesome! I don’t know how some folks can say otherwise.

    Thanks for the great memories!

  20. Rebel Ed

    I got to eat at the Convair restaruant once in 1988. Strangely enough, I’d gone to DEN for the Airliners International Convention. I’d snuck aboard the APSA 990 out at Mojave a couple years before, so I thought it would be nice to eat in a Coronado. Sadly, the interior of the 990 was furnished with normal tables and chairs, and the flight deck was bare. Seeing how all four engine pods were gone I had the fear this restaruant was not going to stay open much longer. I hope they have not torn down N5605 and turned it into aluminum cans, but I also wondered why they didn’t furnish the interior more like an American Airlines Astrojet and less like a Denny’s. The menu was not remarkable at all and the wait staff were not wearing anything resembling a Flight Attendant’s uniform (back when we still said “Stewardess.”) If this is truly gone, I’m sad, but at least I got the chance to once dine at the Coronado Cafe. It gives you a sad feeling when the doors are removed and the fuselage has been cut-open to make a larger entrance. Yet, at least I can remind anyone who’s interested; back before we had Concorde, we had Coronado! Too bad they couldn’t use this smoky sports car as a profitable airliner here in America. Thank you for reminding me of a wonderful experience.

  21. Gitawa,

    I’m glad that this article (made better by Steve and Seamus’ additions) was able to bring back pleasant memories. I only ever ate there once—and didn’t pull up in an airplane!—but it seemed like a special place.

  22. Gitawa

    I’m so happy to find this information! I ate there (also in 1981) right after I got married. We were one of the couples who pulled up in a small airplane to eat there. A year later, I lost my husband in a plane crash. I loved the restaurant, and it’s one of my special memories of our short time together!

  23. Seamus,

    Thanks for the link. That’s a great find. You have to dig around on that site a bit, but there’s a wealth of information about the Erie Air Park and the Convair restaurant.

  24. Chris Baer

    Steve,

    Thanks for the great information. I ate there in 1981 or 1982, as I recall, so I missed your tenure there!

    I’ve updated the name of the restaurant in the post. I actually wavered between “at the Convair” and “on the Convair” when putting this article together, so I’m pleased to get some confirmation on that fact.

    I appreciate that you shared your thoughts on this restaurant. Eating there is one of those curious memories I have from childhood, and getting some first-hand knowledge of the place is meaningful.

    And yeah, I’m sure the scrapman wasn’t kind to old N5601, but she left an impression.

  25. Steve Nelson

    Hi there!

    I was doing a Google search on the old Convair Restaurant and found this article. I worked there from early 1984 to mid ’85..in fact, I took the picture in your article (and posted it on the forum where you found it.) I started out as a dishwasher and ended up as a line cook. The restaurant’s full name was “B.J. Strawberries at the Convair.” The “B.J.” was for owners Bob and Jean Rush (the way I heard it, her favorite expression for doing something crazy was “going strawberries,” rather than “bananas.” Their son Rick was the manager. As I recall, the wait staff wore slacks and polo shirts, rather than faux airline uniforms. The lunch menu had several different burgers with airplane names.

    While they tried to put forward the image of an “upscale” eatery, it really was just a greasy spoon with a long, skinny dining room. The kitchen was located in the building below, and sent up to the plane on a dumb-waiter, which was constantly breaking down. I moved out of Colorado in early ’86, and heard that the restaurant went under and became derelict not long after that. It has since been torn down, and I assume the plane turned into pop cans.

    Cheers!

    Steve Nelson
    Battle Creek, Michigan

    • Greg b

      Thanks Steve. This was a favorite destination for the pilots in training in Greeley back then. We would rent airplanes and fly there. We could taxi right up to the Convair and park. I remember there used to be a magician that would go from table to table doing tricks for tips. He was pretty good. I still have a few of the post cards they gave away. It was around the same time that you worked there.

      Greg

    • takwis

      Hey Steve! I worked there the first half of 1981. Left to go down the road a ways to the Air Force Academy. I lost a tiny bit of the tip of my index finger to the dumbwaiter. It jerked, or bounced up and down as I reached in to get the plates, and somehow I got my finger pinched in there. All I really remember was that it hurt, there was blood everywhere, and they had a hard time taking my fingerprints while inprocessing at the Academy.

      I lived nearby, and can remember seeing them towing the plane down the road to build the restaurant. I was sad to hear that it was gone, about ’91. What a cool looking plane! Those fairings on the wing really looked like a Soviet airliner, to me.

      • Jonathan

        I lived in Westminster starting in 1985 and I went to this restaurant a few times. I would take friends there for the sheer novelty of it. I think the food was at least good, or I wouldn’t have gone back. I went a few times when they had a guy that would come around during dinner and make balloon animals for everyone at the table, so not only was it a restaurant in a plane, but there was entertainment also.

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