PARACHUTE - It's been more than a month since the presidential election, and business is still down at VJ's Outlaw Ribbs in Parachute, the restaurant that operator Jean Johnson believes has been the target of a politically motivated boycott by natural gas industry workers.
Former Denver Bronco Vance Johnson owns the barbecue joint, but his mother and father, Jean and Eugene, run it.
The Johnsons claim to have lost about 75 percent of their business after hosting an event for the Garfield County Democratic Party in mid-October, and allowing Democrats and Republicans to post yard signs outside the restaurant.
Representatives of gas companies Encana, Williams Midstream and WPX Energy, all of which operate near Parachute, have denied participating in a boycott. Yet Johnson said that while Encana workers have started returning to her restaurant, many former regulars who work for Williams and WPX have stayed away.
Johnson added she heard that an internal investigation at WPX Energy revealed the source of a communication urging employees to boycott her restaurant.
While WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar confirmed that an investigation had taken place, she declined to discuss its results.
"I have reached out to the Johnsons personally a number of times, and in our minds the matter is closed," she said.
Certainly, Johnson said, the struggling economy could be playing a role in the recent slowdown at her restaurant.
"This time of year is always slow, because people are getting ready for Christmas," she said.
Yet she believes there's more in play than the economy alone, and the decline in business from Williams and WPX workers makes her suspect a boycott.
Since the situation was first publicized last month, Johnson said the decline of customers had been partially offset by an outpouring of support from people reacting to the alleged boycott.
"I've been really thankful that a lot of people in the community have come to our aid," she said. "I've had people from as far away as Aspen and Grand Junction, and we had a person from Pueblo who brought their whole family to eat here."
Other gas companies have also hired VJ's to cater their events, Johnson said, as has the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board, which holds monthly meetings on gas-related issues.
In spite of that, Johnson said she's had to cut many of her employees from four or five days a week down to two, reduce her morning and weekend hours, and cut her cooks' wages.
"It's been hurtful, but I don't need two cooks there a lot of times," she said.
Still, Johnson remains hopeful the restaurant will survive.
"I've been disturbed by the experience," Johnson said, "but I have faith in God that he's going to see us through it."