In continued defiance of health orders, Shooters Grill takes dining outside

Rifle restaurant continues to defy local and statewide Public Health orders

Lauren Boebert, owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, checks on customers after opening her restaurant earlier this month against public health orders. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)

After a cease and desist letter, a temporary restraining order and being told by Garfield County Public Health not to serve customers on the premise, Shooters Grill owner Lauren Beobert decided to take it outside.

Dining, that is.

With most businesses continuing to adhere to public health orders from local and state governments and minimal vehicle traffic on Third Street Thursday morning, Boebert set up tables on the sidewalk and parking spaces outside of her downtown Rifle restaurant and began serving breakfast to customers.

“I’ve been patient, followed all of the proper channels, and provided service in a safe and responsible manner using the same guidelines as neighboring Mesa County restaurants. When that wasn’t good enough for our local officials, they issued a cease and desist,” Boebert said in a statement Thursday. “The fact remains that my staff needs their paychecks, so this morning I moved my tables out onto the city street and opened back up for business.”

State and local orders prohibit restaurants from offering food or beverages for on-premises consumption, as well as movement in and out of restaurants by the public until May 27.

In defiance of a cease and desist letter and temporary court-issued restraining order Shooters Grill in Rifle was open for business Thursday, serving customers outside the Third Street business. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)

Boebert was openly defiant about reopening against state health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic when speaking before the county commissioners on Monday. She said she was operating at 30% of her normal capacity, same as Mesa County restaurants are being allowed to do under a state-granted variance, and taking other health precautions to ensure social distancing.

On Wednesday Garfield County officials obtained the temporary restraining order from the district court against Boebert, after she continued to operate her restaurant against public health orders and after she was contacted by law enforcement to shut down. The restraining order was issued after Boebert had been served with a cease and desist letter Tuesday afternoon by law enforcement officials.

Amid warm weather, blue skies, and sunshine, a steady flow of customers dined throughout the day. At one point, a small line formed of people waiting for open tables.

“We have no authority over restaurant matters,” Rifle Mayor Barb Clifton said. “It is a weirdly layered issue, obviously the state and Garfield County create and enforce the Safer at Home laws for businesses, what they can and can’t do.”

Matthew Palomvi talks with his mother Sandra, who is visiting from Minnesota, after they breakfast Thursday morning at Shooters Grill in Rifle. In defiance of a cease and desist order Shooters owner Lauren Boebert opened her business to serving customers outside. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)
Kyle Mills/Citizen Telegram

Clifton said Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein was on the scene early and talked with Boebert and had her fill out the necessary right-of-way permit, and asked them to move the tables from the street onto the sidewalk.

“Those permits are available to any business, if a retail store wants to have a sidewalk sale that’s what they get,” Clifton said. “Those right-of-way permits are, however, subject to all health orders of the county. This is really the county’s public health deal in terms of what their next move is with them.”

Garfield County commissioners are actively working to petition Gov. Jared Polis to allow more local businesses to reopen, “in a staged and safe manner,” according to a county press release.

Commissioners sent a letter Monday afternoon to Polis pointing to the number of local COVID-19 cases (112 to date), and the compliance that the construction industry, grocery and convenience stores and other essential businesses have met locally under the former Stay and Home and the current Safer at Home orders. 

Laney Kirkpatrick, a Shooter Grill waitress, serves customers outside of the Restaurant Thursday in Rifle. In defiance of a cease and desist order Shooters owner Lauren Boebert opened her business to customers outside. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)

The county is requesting that restaurants be allowed to open at 30% capacity with inside and outside dining. In addition to food establishments, the commissioners have asked that other businesses be allowed to reopen with monitoring by Public Health. 

The county commissioners had hoped that the state could grant the variance for an earlier opening as soon as Thursday. However, the county is continuing to formalize its variance request to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, so that is not likely.

On her way to submitting paperwork for the right-of-way permit, Boebert said she hopes to inspire other businesses to follow suit.

“I want everybody open, I don’t want to have a monopoly,” she said. “That’s my goal and if I need to pioneer the way for that I’m fine with it.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could potentially intervene to suspend a restaurant’s license if it is not in compliance with health orders. But the state usually defers to the county to take the first action.

“The goal isn’t to shut down restaurants, it’s to make sure businesses are following the orders that are necessary to keep Coloradans safe,” the CDPHE said in a statement. “We always start with voluntary compliance and education, but we will pursue additional remedies through orders or the courts when necessary. In each case, we are evaluating three main factors — official complaints, local actions and the level of purposeful defiance.”

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