Pueblo’s Sunset Inn was a booming family business. Then the pandemic hit

For almost four decades, the Sunset Inn Bar and Grill was a thriving, beloved family-owned business in Pueblo, Colorado, famous for its version of sloppers — a local dish — its generosity to the community and its welcoming atmosphere, where everyone was treated like family.

Now, it’s one of the many small businesses around the country struggling to stay afloat because of Covid-19.

Sales are a tiny fraction of what they were before the mandated shutdown in March. Owners Gerda and Chuck Chavez reopened in June, but had to close again when they and other family members contracted Covid-19. Now, as coronavirus cases soar, dining in at restaurants is no longer possible in the county, and business at the Sunset has slowed to a trickle of take-out orders.

Gerda’s biggest fear, she told CNN, is losing everything the family had worked so hard for since coming to the country with just three suitcases decades ago.

“Losing what we (built) all these years, having to fear somebody else has it after we walk away and us not being here anymore,” Gerda said, crying.

Losing Sunset would mean losing everything, her daughter Cassy Gibbons said.

“The Sunset to me is my whole family, our whole life,” she said, choking up with emotion.

The eatery gained national fame when it won Travel Network’s “Food Wars” contest featuring sloppers — cheeseburgers slathered in chili — against its crosstown rival, Don Gray’s Coors Tavern, 10 years ago.

“We are famous for sloppers,” Gerda said, laughing. Sometimes the crowds were so large, they had a security guard at the door to let people in when other patrons left, she said.

Just after reopening in June, Covid-19 struck close to home: 11 family members, including Gerda and Chuck, came down with the disease. All recovered, but the business still struggled.

A federal small-business grant helped for a while, but the Chavezes have since had to let most of their 22 employees go, Gerda said.

Now, Gerda is “not sleeping at night. My hair is turning gray. I’m constantly worrying about if we can pay the bills next week, next month,” she said. “And it’s not just me, it’s my whole family.”

And still, Gerda is doing what she has done every holiday season for almost 30 years: She and the family raised enough money through an auction — online this year — to buy at least three gifts each for 180 needy children.

The kids were her mom’s biggest worry when the most recent shutdown was announced, Gibbons said.

“The first thing that my Mom said was, ‘We need to hurry'” and get all the shopping done for the children, Gibbons said.

“During our hardest times, when we’re wondering what’s going to happen with our whole life that they’ve built, she’s worried about making sure that these needy kids in our community are going to have a Christmas,” Gibbons said.

The children have been through enough hardship during the pandemic, Gerda said. “And most of these kids, if I don’t do Christmas for them, they’re not going to have nothing.”

The Chavez family members themselves could use a Christmas miracle.

“To not know what could happen is really frightening,” Gibbons said. “It’s not that they can’t run a business. They’ve been doing it for 40 years. But it’s because of the pandemic. And that’s completely out of our control.”

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