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'Wasn't a political statement. More of a necessity,' says restaurant owner on opening amid lockdown

Her's is now one of the many Colorado restaurants that are going against a state order to keep eateries closed to in-house diners until further notice.

'Wasn't a political statement. More of a necessity,' says restaurant owner on opening amid lockdown
Cover Image Source: Activists participate in a May Day protest while driving in their vehicles during the coronavirus pandemic, May 1, 2020, Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When Kelley Chagolla, co-owner of the Charro Mexican Restaurant in the conservative enclave of Weld County, Colorado, decided to open her restaurant to diners this week, she wasn't trying to make a political statement. For her, it was a matter of survival than anything else. Although she knew she'd be risking her restaurant's license by going directly against Democratic Gov. Jared Polis's order to limit service to delivery and curbside, she saw no other choice before her. For the 57-year-old, it all came down to the difference between life in a wheelchair and life on her feet.



"It wasn’t a political statement. It was more of a necessity," Chagolla told The Washington Post. Having to pay $1,650 in health insurance each month to afford medicine for her severe rheumatoid arthritis, she had to defy to governor's order to keep standing on her feet; literally and figuratively. "If I don’t have that, within eight weeks, I would be wheelchair-bound," she said of the medicines. Chagolla's is now one of the many Colorado restaurants that are going against a state order to keep eateries closed to in-house diners until further notice while the novel coronavirus continues to run rampant in the state.



In Greeley, Weld County, they have the backing of elected officials who have taken a firm stance against Gov. Polis's order, encouraging businesses to open as they see fit. Chagolla revealed that she'd contacted the county and asked for permission to open up the small restaurant to diners and had only done so with the promise that the county health department would not shut it down. Currently, Charro is operating at about 25% capacity and is taking a number of precautions to avoid transmission of the virus among diners and staff.



"Our county said we could open," she said. "I realize the governor does not like that. But he’s not sending me $1,700 a month to pay my insurance. We haven’t had any pushback yet from anybody." Unlike Charro, things ended badly for another restaurant in Colorado that's two hours south of Greeley when it opened to large crowds on Mother’s Day. C&C Breakfast & Korean Kitchen in Castle Rock received a shutdown order from the local health department after a video published online showed patrons seemingly ignoring social distancing measures and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in line for breakfast.



The state revoked the restaurant's tax license, leaving the owners unable to operate either of their two locations in the area. Addressing the incident in an interview the next day, Polis said that restaurants opening must do so safely. "It’s really finding out how we can live in the world with the virus," he said. As for whether similar measures might be taken against Charro, a spokesperson for the Colorado State Joint Information Center stated that the state will take three main factors into consideration in such cases: "official complaints, local actions, and the level of purposeful defiance."



"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," they said. Describing the way C&C opened as "horrific," Chagolla emphasized the precautionary measures she's taking at her establishment, including removing salt and pepper shakers from tables, and sanitizing menus, pens and bill trays before each use. "If we lose that license, we'll cross that bridge when it comes. I don't want to spread anything and I don't want to catch anything, but I'm willing to take that risk to feed my family," she said.



Diners leaving the restaurant earlier this week praised the social distancing measures inside the restaurant and said they had little fear of contracting the virus there. "How many viruses have we gone through? And we’ve never had to do anything like this," said 70-year-old Barb Zundel. "If I can get my hair done and my toes done, I should be able to go out and eat. I’m not afraid. I’m not at risk. I don’t know why I’m not afraid... You know what, I have the Lord Jesus watching over me."


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