Rifle’s Shooters Grill closes, food service license suspended ahead of Monday court hearing

Matthew Palomvi talks with mother Sandra, who is visiting from Minnesota, after they had breakfast Thursday morning at Shooters Grill in Rifle. Shooters' license was suspended on Friday.
Kyle Mills/Citizen Telegram

Garfield County Public Health late Friday suspended the food service license of Shooters Grill in Rifle, after the restaurant continued to serve customers on site in defiance of state public health orders and against a court injunction issued earlier in the week.

As a result of the 30-day suspension, owner Lauren Boebert now faces the likelihood of not being able to reopen to full service when other county restaurants do, if a variance that was submitted to state health officials on Friday is approved.

Yvonne Long, public health director for the county, confirmed Saturday that the license suspension was served on Boebert at 5 p.m. Friday.

“The license suspension was necessary because a restaurant that is open for on-premises consumption currently creates an imminent health hazard as defined by Colorado’s Food Protection Act,” County Health said in a statement issued Saturday evening. “The license suspension is independent of the public health order violations also facing the establishment.”

Boebert is due in court in Glenwood Springs at 9 a.m. Monday where County Health is seeking a preliminary injunction. District Judge Anne Norrdin on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order requiring Boebert to comply with the state and county health orders.

The hearing will consider extending the restraining order for as long as the current public health orders remain in effect, which are now set to expire at midnight May 26.

“The court may also consider whether Ms. Boebert is in contempt of a lawful court order,” according to the county’s press statement.  “Unfortunately, now that the restaurant license has been suspended, Shooters Grill will likely remain closed even after other Garfield County restaurants are allowed to open.”

In a video posted to her “Lauren Boebert for Congress” Facebook page shortly after the suspension was served, Boebert said she would comply and not continue serving food through the weekend.

“I said I was taking this day by day … so, I’m not serving food until I meet with them on Monday morning,” Boebert said in the video.

In her post, she calls out Gov. Jared Polis, whose statewide executive order limits restaurants to curbside take-out and delivery service only during the state’s public health response aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“Your policies are literally bankrupting small businesses like mine that are trying their very best to responsibly stay afloat,” Boebert wrote. “This has to stop.”

In protest, Boebert began serving customers inside her restaurant last weekend. She told county commissioners May 11 that she was following CDC guidelines, including social distancing between customer tables, requiring wait staff to wear face coverings, and limiting her dining-in capacity to 30%.

Boebert was first issued a cease and desist order on Tuesday. The court order came Wednesday after Boebert continued to operate, and on Thursday and Friday she had moved her table service outside on the sidewalk and street parking area.

On Friday, Garfield County commissioners forwarded a formal request to Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment seeking a variance from the state health orders.

It asks that restaurants, fitness facilities/gyms and churches be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity ahead of May 27 when the governor’s executive order is set to expire. Larger tourist businesses would be limited to 30% capacity under the county’s early opening request. A decision by the state is not expected for five to eight days.

One other Rifle restaurant operator, Rasa Higens, who owns Brickhouse Pizza on Third Street a few doors down from Shooters, said she worries that Boebert’s “martyrdom” could negatively impact the county’s efforts.

In a letter to the editor sent to the Post Independent, Higens said, “Waiting patiently to open is our part in fighting covid 19. It is our way and sacrifice in this action that we show our support for all the medical community has done, for which we are grateful.

“We want to open, however we do not feel the need to fight local government,” her letter reads in part, continuing, “we are actively planning to open after the health department gives us the go and we are using our time to brainstorm a healthy way to do so.”

Higens added in a followup interview that she’s “a lot like” Boebert in her beliefs, but she chooses to take a different tact in the current situation.

“I’m a Christian, I’m a Trump supporter, I believe in open carry,” she said. “But we don’t want to go about this in a way that’s going to take us longer to open.”

Boebert is a Republican candidate for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd District running against incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) in next month’s primary.

Editor’s note: This story has been modified from an earlier version, following receipt of Garfield County’s press statement at 7:26 p.m. on Saturday.

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