Warhorse Inn to close after 30 years in business

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The Warhorse Inn, arguably the most well-known independent restaurant in Parker, is closing its doors after 30 years.

Stevan Strain, the venerable owner of the Warhorse Inn, recently turned 60 and is in the process of selling because he wants to take on new pursuits. The beloved restaurant has been a fixture of East Mainstreet in downtown Parker since it opened in 1983.

“It’s been a great privilege and adventure, and an educational thing to be in this business for 30 years,” Strain said in his distinctive Southern accent.

The Warhorse Inn has been the site of anniversary dinners, Mother’s Day brunches, business transactions, retirement parties and political campaign kickoffs, among many other events. Debbie Lewis, who celebrated her election to Parker Town Council at the eatery in 2000 and again in 2012, says it has become part of “the fabric of the community.”

“It’s hard to see something like that go. It’s been here for so long,” said Lewis, who has been a regular customer at the Warhorse, as it’s known locally, for all 30 years of its existence.

Strain has kept the doors open for nearly the last year to enable his 27 employees to find new jobs. Now that he is down to just six workers, the Warhorse is only open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.

Strain spent 40 years in the restaurant business, and although he is unsure what his future holds, he is satisfied with his decision to sell. He wants time to reflect on his next venture without having the pending sale weighing down on him, he said, before adding a final pitch: “If anyone is interested in coming in to get Parker’s best burger or our mushrooms tempura, this is the time to do it. Once it’s gone, it will not be the same recipes. It will be under a new name.”

Strain is in final negotiations with a group that wants to honor the downtown district’s heritage with a new restaurant called the Parker Garage. It will pay homage to an iconic garage and gas station that was built in the same spot in 1916.

“I believe the restaurant we’re trying to bring in has a great chance of being the No. 1 restaurant in Parker,” Strain said. “It’s unlike anything that’s ever been here before.”

The Warhorse Inn has become an institution, one that has been a constant presence for longtime residents. Lewis described it as “Parker’s Cheers,” referring to the 1980s sitcom based on a Boston bar where everybody knows your name.

Upon hearing the news of its impending closure, Lewis’ 29-year-old daughter shed a few tears. During a recent visit home, Lewis’ daughter ordered every one of her favorite dishes in one meal. Lewis said locals will miss the friendly, “come-as-you-are” atmosphere.

“It’s the passing of an era,” she said. “The older you get, the more difficult it is to lose these things.”

Strain was the winner of the 2004 Cornerstone Award, an honor that celebrates an individual’s contributions to the community. He has been on numerous volunteer boards and continues to serve on the Douglas County Planning Commission, the Douglas County Open Space Advisory Commission and the Parker Foundation board of directors. When asked if he will stay in Parker, he emphatically answers: “without a shadow of a doubt.”

“Many years ago, as a young man, I traveled the U.S. deciding where I truly wanted to live, and I picked Parker. And I still maintain that it’s the best place to live,” he said.

Originally part of the Littleton Creamery, the land on which the Warhorse sits was sold to Roy J. Woodbury, who built the garage and gas station. A destructive fire ripped through the building in 1929, but it was rebuilt similar to the original. In 1944, the building was turned into a feed store and later, in the 1960s, used as a tack shop until the Warhorse opened in 1983.

There is no specific timeline for the closure of the Warhorse and opening of the Parker Garage.