A Centennial business that serves wine and food briefly closed last week after its decision to offer dine-in service sparked warnings from the Tri-County Health Department. Waters Edge Winery and Bistro reopened a day later after agreeing to follow public health orders issued in March after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Colorado.
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Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Waters Edge is among businesses being championed by a group of people who believe restaurants should be allowed to offer dine-in service. They believe it is unfair that retail stores can welcome in customers but restaurants are confined to curbside pick-up, take-out and delivery for at least a few more weeks.
On May 7, Waters Edge shut its doors after the health department issued an order to close.
"We have chosen to temporarily close our doors as we work to determine what our next steps are, as they have threatened us with imprisonment for exercising our Freedom," states a post on the bistro's Facebook page. "We are humbled by all of the outpouring of support and love we have received for so many of our favorite people during these trying times. We will reopen. That is our pledge."
In a May 8 news release announcing the reopening of Waters Edge, Tri-County said it had been assured the restaurant would comply with the public health orders against dine-in service.
“We appreciate the rapid cooperation of Waters Edge Winery in complying with the relevant public health orders," Tri-County Executive Director John Douglas said in the release. "Our goal is to help everyone in our community, both residents and businesses, get back to the highest level of normalcy we can achieve with COVID-19 in a safe and healthy manner. It will take every one of us following the guidelines and all of the prevention measures to fight COVID-19 and safely reopen our economy."
Waters Edge, 2101 E. Arapahoe Road, was forced to close its dine-in service, along with all Colorado restaurants, beginning March 19.
The restaurant owner decided to reopen for dine-in service May 1. Tri-County officials reported receiving 17 complaints about the restaurant between May 1 and May 5.
Tri-County inspectors stated that noncompliance on the bistro's part could have led to forced closure, civil or criminal penalties and actions or revocation of Waters Edge's business license and food-handling licensing permits. Information regarding its noncompliance, the warning states, may be used against the owner during renewal process of any special license or permits he or she holds.
Gov. Jared Polis lifted Colorado's stay-at-home order on April 27, but some counties, including Arapahoe, where Waters Edge is located, remained under local health departments' stay-at-home orders through May 8. While many types of businesses were allowed to reopen as of May 9, with certain restrictions, under Polis' new safer-at-home guidelines, dine-in service at restaurants and bars is still not permitted.
Reopen Colorado, a Facebook group rallying people statewide to defy public health orders, had a post on its page encouraging people to show up to Waters Edge at 3 p.m. May 6.
“We need to be there with cameras rolling and a crowd of support,” the post reads.
Waters Edge opened May 6 at its standard 3 p.m. time.
A Colorado Community Media reporter attempted to interview owner Jennifer Hulan at the restaurant May 6, but Hulan declined and asked the reporter to leave the property. A follow-up phone request for an interview also was declined.
Shortly after 3 p.m. May 6, most customers sat on the restaurant's outdoor porch and some chatted with workers at the bar.
Polis said dine-in service at restaurants will not be allowed by state order at least until the end of the month. Eager to get customers back, some restaurateurs have contacted local political leaders and the health department, pleading to let them reopen.
Pam Briere, owner of West Main Taproom and Grill in Parker, opened her business for a few weeks in February before being shut down in March. Briere said she purposefully leased a space with extra floor room for a reason: she wanted to give her customers an experience. Briere said her original business plan heavily relied on dine-in service, to the tune of 80%. It's the reason she installed a communal table and many beer options. Briere owns a restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska, too, where the governor allows restaurants to operate at 50% capacity with 9-foot social distancing guidelines and a requirement for servers to wear masks.
Within minutes of watching Polis' news conference May 4, she wrote him a letter.
“I was upset because you will let Walmart be open. Home Depot, Lowe's and those big box stores are packed with people, yet you won't let us small business restaurateurs open at 50% capacity, taking all the precautions?” Briere said May 6.
Briere said the federal Paycheck Protection Program and emergency small business loans may not be enough to keep her business afloat.
“What's frustrating right now is not knowing. Why can't the counties open up and let us open up?” Briere said.
Briere said she has received a lot of negativity from people on social media when her letter was posted to a community Facebook page, Living in Parker, CO. However, Briere said her employees were begging to come back to work.
“Of course,” she said, when she does reopen, “I'm going to have safety precautions in place.”
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