When Can Restaurants Reopen (Legally) in Colorado?

CBS4 captured C&C Coffee and Kitchen giving the finger to the governor's orders.
CBS4 captured C&C Coffee and Kitchen giving the finger to the governor's orders.
Ever since all Colorado restaurants and bars closed for on-premises drinking and dining on March 17, the restaurant industry has been asking one specific question: When can restaurants reopen?

There are other questions, of course. Once eateries can reopen, what will the rules be? Will they reopen at 30 percent capacity? Fifty percent? Will extra seating have to be removed, or can it be roped off? How will crowded kitchens deal with social distancing? Can a restaurant survive under these restrictions? Is expanding patio and outdoor seating a possibility?

In the meantime, is it worth it to staff a kitchen for to-go, drive-thru and delivery, which restaurants and bars are allowed to offer? It's tough to just cover the costs of those services, even with the loosening of liquor-license rules that allows to-go and delivery of alcohol, too. And hey, can those liquor-law changes be made permanent?

But all those questions are secondary to this one: When can restaurants reopen?

At his press conference on May 11, Governor Jared Polis offered an update that gave a specific date — for when the decision to reopen may be made — and also background on how that decision will be made.

On May 25, the state will decide if restaurants can begin reopening, at what level...and when. Polis and his team will make this decision "based on the latest data and evidence," the governor says.

At a previous news conference, Polis had estimated that it would take restaurants a week to gear up for reopening once that date is announced; restaurateurs have estimated that it could take at least twice that. But until they know what the rules will be for reopening, it's hard to know exactly what those reopening preparations will have to be, so restaurateurs are waiting for specifics on that, too.

Some counties have already applied for a variance on the state's order, whatever it might ultimately be. Mesa County asked to be allowed to reopen restaurant at 30 percent capacity, and that request was granted; some restaurants reopened last week. Pitkin County has asked for a variance that would allow restaurants in Aspen and other towns to reopen May 20 at 30 percent capacity; the state has not yet issued a decision on that application.

But Polis didn't wait to make one decision: After C&C Coffee and Kitchen in Castle Rock opened its dining room for Mother's Day, "illegally operating in violation of public health orders, putting dozens if not hundreds of residents at risk," the governor's office reported, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment determined that C&C Coffee and Kitchen was causing an imminent health hazard. "As such, CDPHE is using their authority under the Colorado Food Protection Act to take action to suspend the license of the business indefinitely until it can be established that there is no longer a threat to public health."

And it might take a lot longer than May 25 to establish that.