A Castle Rock restaurant that was temporarily ordered to close for defying the state's new pandemic public health orders fills a space previously operated by a community businessman who died from COVID-19 complications.
Steve Evans died on April 6 after a near two-week battle with the novel coronavirus. He spent his 52nd birthday in the hospital sedated and on a ventilator. Before his death, Evans owned and operated Astro Tap House with his daughter, Elly, in Castle Rock.
That space is now filled by The Whiskey Lodge, which the Tri-County Health Department on Nov. 23 ordered to cease operations, saying the restaurant refused to stop indoor dining when new level red restrictions began in Douglas County at 5 p.m. Nov. 20. Two days later, Tri-County rescinded the order for The Whiskey Lodge and four other county eateries told to shut down, saying the department worked with the owners to help them safely reopen.
The Whiskey Lodge is owned by Keith and Sonja Dailey and Brad Mahoney, according to the business' website. The Daileys and Mahoney could not be reached for comment.
The closure of indoor dining in Douglas County has sparked local controversy, with numerous local restaurant owners calling on the state to reverse course and allow restaurants to stay open with some indoor capacity.
The Whiskey Lodge has no affiliation with her family's former business, Elly said. Her father began discussions with its ownership before his death. They reached an agreement making way for The Whiskey Lodge to take over Astro's lease shortly before her father became sick, Elly said.
“With COVID kind of starting, we knew with the talk of, there might be a shutdown,” Elly said. "We knew we wouldn't be able to get through that. Dad kind of wanted to get ahead of the game.”
She has no ill will toward The Whiskey Lodge, wishes them the best and hopes they can comply with orders, she said.
Elly said as a business owner and someone personally affected by the pandemic, she understands both perspectives.
“That's where I kind of find myself torn with both views. I'm in a group of people who have lost loved ones to COVID and I see their point of views,” she said. “But on the same side, I see what these business owners are going through and I know what that's like to struggle.”
Shuttering businesses leaves owners and their families struggling, she said, “but if you stay open a lot of people end up in my situation,” missing a loved one claimed by the virus.
Elly urged the community to be understanding of one another.
She also urges people to take precautions amid the pandemic, adding she too grows confused by changing guidance from health officials, such as the reversal on wearing masks, but she still complies.
“I know that everybody has different points of view on what is happening in the world right now and my new little motto is 'disagree without disrespect,'” Elly said.
Elly's father was remembered as a beloved community member who devoted his life to his daughter and serving his town.
Evans was an executive member of the local group, Dads of Castle Rock, or the DoCR. The volunteer group of local fathers plans charitable events and volunteer opportunities in town.
Elly said her father was her best friend and did whatever he could to help everyone he met. The two enjoyed running Astro Tap House together and helped each other through life, she said.
Castle Rock councilmembers called him a pillar of the town. The community showed an outpouring of support after his death when members of the DoCR planned a procession on April 9 in Evans' memory.
Cars poured into the parking lot at the Douglas County Fairgrounds before caravanning through the downtown and finally past Astro Tap House, where a tear-stricken Elly waited and waved to each passing car.
After his passing, Elly said she grew frustrated as some friends who knew her father held views about the pandemic she did not agree with. Similarly, she grew upset seeing people she did not know use her father's death as an argument to follow protocols.
She eventually asked the community to stop invoking her father's name in their COVID-19 debates and social media spats, she said.
“It hurts seeing those people kind of go after each other,” she said.
The Whiskey Lodge had been joined by four other restaurants, each in Castle Rock or Parker, in being told by Tri-County to close. The health department announced it had reached an agreement with each eatery on Nov. 25, allowing them to reopen.
Murmurs that local restaurants might defy orders began brewing in the leadup to Douglas County's transition to level red.
The morning of Nov. 20, several area restaurant owners gathered to discuss defying the restrictions, which they argue unfairly burden the restaurant industry.
The co-owners of one area eatery, who spoke to Colorado Community Media on Nov. 20 on the condition they not be named, said they participated in the meeting in desperation for their business.
Their restaurant will not survive until Christmas under level red restrictions, they said, and they did not understand why the state's order would shutter restaurants but not businesses like salons or retailers.
Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and other state leaders have pleaded with Coloradans to help slow the spread of COVID-19, which has reached worse levels than at any other time since it was confirmed in Colorado in March.
Local data shows people who became infected reported restaurants as the second most-common place they frequented before the onset of their illness. A CDPHE spokeswoman who addressed the Castle Rock Town Council on Nov. 24 said restaurants also differ in that people remove their masks while there, unlike at retailers.
On Nov. 24 the Castle Rock Town Council passed a resolution rebuking the state moving Douglas County to level red and closing indoor dining.
The resolution also stated the town would not participate in enforcing the health order, a largely symbolic move as the town has no jurisdiction to enforce the state's health order regardless.
Elly said she does not envy decision makers trying to navigate the pandemic. There is no right answer, she said, and “it's hard no matter what we do.” She does hope the community can “just come together and pull through this.”
“If we all start fighting with each other,” she said, “nobody can get through this.”
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