EL PASO COUNTY — This story has been updated as of June 11, 2020.
The El Paso County Health Department said Thursday it is proceeding forward with a "cease and desist" order against Karen's Kafe And Stephanie's Bar and Grill in Calhan.
A spokesperson for El Paso County Public Health confirms complaints were made about the two eateries. Keith Siemsen, the environmental health division director for El Paso County Public Health, explained that there is a notification process that occurs whenever a complaint is received about a business violating a public health order. They will contact that business owner and provide them with additional education and clarification.
If that business continues to operate in a way that violates an order, they will make a follow up contact with the owner either over the phone, through email or an in-person visit for a more detailed conversation. Continued violations of the health order can lead to the department issuing a Notice of Determination.
"What that is is just basically a document that's given to the operation so that a written record that they are aware that we, El Paso County Public Health, have made a [determination] that they're operating outside of compliance with a public health order," Siemsen said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Siemsen said they've received approximately 2,800 calls from the public. From the hundreds of complaints, only around 20 businesses reached the point of having a more detailed conversation with public health authorities, and handful have received Notices of Determination before returning to compliance. Only one business in the county, which is not in the retail food sector, received a cease and desist order.
He explained that the risk of spreading viruses is lower with carry-out and delivery orders as opposed to having customers dining together in public space.
"You're limiting your exposure by taking the food home and eating within your same group at home whereas if different people came to the restaurant you would have people coming and going and your risk of exposure has gone up considerably," Siemsen said.
The pair of family-owned restaurants took a stand against Gov. Jared Polis's safer-at-home executive order by letting their customers take a seat. The Western Omelette 3, Karen's Kafe And Stephanie's Bar and Grill both invited customers to dine-in on Wednesday. The safer-at-home order, signed April 26, limits restaurants to only offering take out, delivery and drive through service.
"Our bills don't stop because the governor says close," said Karen Starr, owner of Karen's Kafe And Stephanie's Bar and Grill. "We've lost 90%, easily, of our sales."
The restaurant just passed its one year anniversary last month. They've been offering carry out and curbside pick up since the first executive order was issued six weeks ago. General Manager Stephanie Carter said the forced closure of their dining room feels like government overreach.
"I don't understand how we woke up one day and didn't have the right to operate a business," she said.
The tables in the restaurant have been spaced at least 6 feet apart and are sterilized before each use. Additionally, the restaurant only serves meals on disposable paper products. The salt and pepper shakers were removed in favor of using packets.
"We're doing everything we can," Starr said. "You're not walking closer to people than you are at the Walmart. You're further away in here."
While our cameras were at Karen's, the health department called the other restaurant flouting this order: Western Omelette 3.
"They just told us that we needed to shut it down or they would shut it down for us," said part manager Sophie Waugh.
So, they shut it down, turning away some customers who were planning to dine in. Waugh said it was difficult to do because so many people in Calhan supported the idea of these restaurants bucking the system.
"Out here it's just different than it is in town," she said. "Like, no one is as concerned about everything and no one is as worried about it."
The safer-at-home executive order expires after a period of 30 days unless it is extended.
On Wednesday, Calhan's mayor expressed her support for the business. News 5 followed up with Mayor Jasim Thorp Thursday after our original story aired.
She issued the following statement:
The opinion given yesterday was mine alone. It was simply me supporting a local business. I did not give permission for them to open, as I do not have that authority, but I do support them trying to run a successful small business during this time. The Calhan Town Board has not discussed the issue as a whole so we do not have a statement as a town at this time.
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