At 1:30 p.m. next Tuesday, May 26, Lauren Boebert, co-owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, has a hearing with the Garfield County Public Health department over the temporary loss of the eatery's license to serve food after it reopened without authorization amid the continuing closure of most Colorado restaurants under the current Safer at Home program.
The session was continued from one originally scheduled at 9 a.m. May 18, and Boebert sees the delay as fortuitous. After all, between then and now, Governor Jared Polis publically expressed his hope that when restaurants reopen, they'll focus on allowing customers to dine outside on streets, sidewalks or parking lots — which is exactly what Boebert was doing when her license was yanked.
Asked if she sees it as ironic that Shooters Grill was shut down for essentially following Polis's recommendations, Boebert responds, "Yes, at the least. We all know this makes sense, and I think that in everything I've done, I've been very responsible in my actions."
Facing the prospect that she'd be unable to pay her employees for the first time since the grill began focusing on curbside pick-up and delivery, Boebert began offering on-site dining again on May 9 under strict safety protocols: no more than 30 percent capacity, social distancing between diners, mask and glove use by employees, sanitizing of booths and tables after each use, etc.
Those are the guidelines followed by restaurants in nearby Mesa County, which received a variance from the state allowing eateries to reopen for dine-in customers. However, Garfield County has no such variance, and so is still under the state's orders that only allow restaurants to offer curbside pick-up and delivery services.
As a result, Boebert was smacked with a cease-and-desist order from Garfield County on the evening of May 13 — so the next morning, she moved tables outside. A couple of hours after that, she was told by law enforcement that "you can't close parking," she recalls. "I said, 'Closed businesses don't need parking.' So the chief [of police] got together with the City of Rifle and the planning department, and within an hour, they allowed all businesses to have tables and seating in the city right of way. We obtained that permit and were doing sanitary serving on the sidewalk, in complete compliance with recommendations from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. We had two days of serving that way, and it went great."
Then, at 5 p.m. on May 15, Boebert continues, "I was given the license suspension by a deputy, who let my customers finish their food, and then we had to cease food production. No one from the health department had any communication with me regarding the suspension, and afterward, they wouldn't even answer their phone."
Shooters Grill customers are behind Boebert, a Republican who's running for Congress against incumbent Scott Tipton in the primary; yesterday, several picnicked in front of the business in a show of support. And Boebert remains steadfast in the belief that her actions were justified.
"I understand the constitutionality of this above all else — that this is a violation and infringement on so many of our basic, fundamental rights," she allows. "But I was also responsible in my actions. I didn't abide by the arbitrary opening date, but I was in compliance with all the other sanitary procedures. I just needed my restaurant back open so I could make payroll."
She stresses that "I don't need a handout; I don't feel I should be made an example of, which is how I'm being treated right now; and I certainly should not be treated like a criminal or be forced to close my restaurant after months of being compliant. We're in a scenario where customers are walking the aisles of Home Depot or Walmart but they can't be served food from a safe distance away by someone wearing a mask and gloves. Big-box stores are open, but small-business owners are dying. We're losing everything we've built."