Britany Miller starts her day at the Collbran Cafe at 7:30 a.m. and does just about everything.

She is in the kitchen working the breakfast and lunch shifts, then helps in the front of the restaurant until 3:30 or 4 p.m. She’s usually done in time to pick her kids up from school.

Though the town she serves has a fraction of the population of Grand Junction, she had just as big of a need for the five-star certification from the Mesa County Variance Protection Program.

Going to pickup-only in the spring hurt business for the Collbran Cafe on Main Street. When Mesa County moved to level “Red” on the state’s COVID-19 dial in November, a closed dining room suddenly became a reality again.

“I didn’t know about the five-star rating until we went to red,” said Miller, who owns the cafe. “I filled out the application immediately and within a couple of days got the certification.”

As part of that promise to the health department, the restaurant is following all the guidelines with sanitizing stations, rigorous cleaning schedules, social distancing markers and mandatory masks for customers when they enter.

Miller isn’t entirely sold on the mask mandate, but thinks that it’s worth enforcing if it means staying open.

Miller, who bought the cafe four years ago, had to lay off her staff when the pandemic hit. That left she and her husband filling take-out orders.

Thanks to the loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, the cafe was able to reopen with five employees, including Miller. That was in time for the summer months, a busy time for the cafe.

“Business was really good in the summer. We had a lot of outdoors people and campers coming through,” Miller said. “I think people were ready to get out. A lot of locals were also eager to come out and support us.”

The Collbran Cafe is important to the community, Miller said, pointing to the morning coffee crew. They’re a group of ranchers who talk about life and happenings in industry over coffee.

The long hours make the job difficult, though, because she wants more family time.

She has the restaurant listed for sale, but wants a new owner to keep it a family friendly place for the community to eat, drink and socialize.

“There’s just something about listening to people laugh and get to know each other. I’ve talked to a lot of people who I otherwise wouldn’t have,” Miller said. “One of the best compliments I received was when a woman told me, ‘I heard that you want to sell this place, but I pray that you don’t.’”

The community has responded well to the cafe’s new restrictions, she said. That bodes well for the Variance Protection Program, a collaboration between Mesa County Public Health and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, as it tries to get more businesses on board.

To expedite that process, the program made the application simpler and easier for businesses. And as they await an audit from county health, the applicants can operate as if they are already certified.

“This program is essential,” said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction chamber. “It’s important that all businesses get certified.”

Since receiving the certification, the Collbran Cafe has been able to operate more comfortably. Business is going well, Miller said, and the community has been supportive.

“People are wearing masks, even if they don’t agree with the mandate, so that we can stay open,” Miller said. “That means a lot to me.”

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