PARACHUTE - The last time the owners of VJ's Outlaw Ribbs in Parachute hosted the Garfield County Democratic Party, they believe it sparked a boycott of the restaurant by some gas industry workers.
Yet that's not stopping Jean and Eugene Johnson from hosting another Democratic Party fundraiser at the restaurant this Saturday.
"Whoever wants to spend money here, I will serve them food," said Jean Johnson. "I'm not in the habit of asking people their political views before I serve them. That would be absurd, and I can't afford it."
Vance Johnson, Jean and Eugene's son and a former wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, owns the restaurant.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, it will be the site of the Martin Luther King Dinner, an annual fundraiser and strategy session for the Garfield County Democrats and the Sopris Democrats, a group composed of party members from Basalt and Carbondale.
The event will feature a live auction, and Vance Johnson, a Republican, is also scheduled to address the crowd.
"I suppose it's a bit odd that we're having a Republican speak to us," said Charmaine Locke, a member of the Garfield County Democrats who is helping to organize the event. "But we wanted to give them some support. To have that many people pull their business out from under a very popular local establishment tells you that something is going on."
The alleged boycott of VJ's began in late October last year, after an Oct. 13 fundraiser at the restaurant for several local and state Democratic candidates on last November's general election ballot.
Following the event, Jean Johnson said she saw a decline in business of roughly 75 percent, and many regulars who work in the natural gas industry seemed to disappear as well.
Spokespeople for the gas companies WPX Energy, Encana Oil and Gas, and Williams Energy have all denied involvement.
In December, though, WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said her firm had launched an internal investigation to learn whether workers were directed to boycott the restaurant. She declined to discuss the results of that inquiry.
Since the alleged boycott began, Johnson said business has remained slow, although many of her regulars who work for Encana seem to have returned. Most Williams and WPX employees, she said, are staying away.
"January is normally a slow month anyway, with people recovering from the holidays," she said. "But we are still here. I'm not intimidated. I'm in business to serve our community."
Locke said about 50 local Democrats are currently signed up to attend the event, and will likely use the time to discuss assembling a slate of candidates for the midterm elections in 2014.