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A Colorado Restaurant Hosted A Crowd On Mother's Day. It's Now Been Closed Down

Updated at 5:50 p.m. ET

Public health officials closed a restaurant in Castle Rock, Colo., on Monday, one day after its owner hosted a Mother's Day event in which the entire dining room was open to seat customers — most of whom weren't wearing face masks.

Hundreds of people visited the C&C Coffee and Kitchen on Sunday, with some praising its defiance in allowing people to eat breakfast burritos and drink coffee at tables despite broad restrictions that limit Colorado restaurants to carryout service. Images from Sunday morning show the restaurant had a line of people at the door, with a crowd inside.

"I expected it to be busy. I never expected this," owner April Arellano told the Castle Rock News-Press on Sunday. "I'm so happy so many people came out to support the Constitution and stand up for what is right. We did our time. We did our two weeks. We did more than two weeks ... and we were failing. We had to do something."

But the local health department shut down the restaurant Monday, saying its owners had ignored a warning not to open their dining room.

"The restaurant was ordered to close immediately" around midday Monday, the Tri-County Health Department said in a statement to NPR.

"It is disheartening that this restaurant has chosen to move ahead of the public orders and not even consider implementing best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19," said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., the health department's executive director.

In an apparent reference to the restaurant, Gov. Jared Polis said Monday that like many Coloradans, he hasn't seen his mother in weeks — and he wasn't able to take her out on Mother's Day.

"I love my mom far too much to put her at risk by visiting a busy restaurant operating illegally, just to take a selfie with omelets and a mimosa," Polis said. He added, "Colorado — America — we are better than that."

Even before local officials took action, C&C Coffee and Kitchen received praise while others slammed it, depending on how they view the economic shutdowns triggered by efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

A video from inside the restaurant Sunday shows a morning rush, with a chattering crowd of families. As the camera sweeps through the packed dining room, only one person can be clearly seen wearing a protective mask.

The bustling business created the potential risk of a new nexus for more coronavirus cases, Douglas countered, something that shouldn't be done. Anything else, he added, isn't fair to business owners who are following Colorado's "Safer at Home" restrictions.

If the C&C Coffee and Kitchen doesn't obey state restrictions, it could lose its license, the health department said. But Douglas also said that if the restaurant agrees to follow the rules on takeout orders, the closure order will be lifted and it can resume operating.

Sunday's rogue opening prompted a flood of comments on the restaurant's Facebook page. Some congratulated Arellano for going against the restrictions, saying she was letting people decide if they wanted to gather in public.

"We had a lovely time and enjoyed the food yesterday!" one woman wrote. "Thank you for a breath of fresh air!"

Anyone who didn't agree, the restaurant's backers said, could simply stay away. But others disagreed vehemently, saying they would never patronize a restaurant that defies public health orders — and adding the potential dangers extend far beyond the people who opted to visit.

"So much selfish stupidity. If it was just themselves they were endangering I wouldn't care, but we're all connected. It's a pandemic and people are dying," a commenter wrote on member station Colorado Public Radio's Facebook post about the reopening.

Castle Rock, a small city about 30 miles south of Denver, is the county seat of Douglas County. It's in the jurisdiction of the Tri-County Health Department – which issued a reminder Saturday, urging people not to form groups of more than 10 on Mother's Day and to keep everyone at least 6 feet apart.

All Colorado restaurants have been under tight restrictions since March 17, when the state health department's order closing bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and casinos took effect.

Arellano's decision to reopen her restaurant at full capacity came days after the governor extended the state's disaster emergency declaration through June 6. As Polis issued that order last week, he cited the threat of a disaster that could bring "widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life."

On Friday, Polis said restaurants may be able to reopen by the time Memorial Day weekend arrives at the end of May, depending on the latest data about the coronavirus outbreak.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, Polis said a decision on opening restaurants will be made on May 25.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: May 11, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Colorado's restrictions on restaurants, bars and other facilities went into effect March 19. It was March 17.
Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.