PARACHUTE, Colo. - Former Denver Bronco Vance Johnson's restaurant, VJ's Outlaw Ribbs at 315 E. First St., has seen its business slump by as much as 75 percent over the past month, possibly due to a politically motivated boycott by gas-industry workers.At least that is the concern voiced by Jean Johnson, Vance's mother, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Eugene "Geno" Johnson, both of Battlement Mesa."It just dropped off and stayed off," Jean Johnson said Monday, referring to the rate of business in recent weeks. "All of the people that normally eat here on a regular basis are across the street at the Mexican restaurant."We're down probably about 75 percent from where we were."Johnson, a Democrat, added that a woman on her staff warned that the restaurant might be suffering a kind of political backlash from the recent national election."People in the community are really angry that President Obama won," Johnson said, relating a waitress's remarks. "They're just beside themselves."Representatives of the energy companies believed by some to be involved - Williams Midstream, WPX Energy and Encana Oil & Gas (USA) - have firmly denied any involvement."It's not coming from us," said Donna Gray, spokeswoman for Williams Midstream. "It's not something we would ever condone."WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar, in an email, also hotly rejected the idea, stating, "There is no truth to the rumor that WPX suggested boycotting our good friends Vance, Jean and Geno at VJ's Ribbs. On the contrary, we consider them good business partners and enjoy their food both in the restaurant and at our office regularly."Contacted by email, Encana spokesman Doug Hock replied, "This is not something I was aware of. But I can tell you categorically that it's not something Encana would've endorsed or encouraged."Jean Johnson said the slump began after the restaurant hosted a catered event for the Garfield County Democratic Party on Oct. 13. By the following Tuesday, Johnson said, "We noticed there was a drop in business."She said friends later contacted state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, about the matter, hoping she could intervene.Schwartz confirmed in late October that she had talked with industry officials about the matter at an event in Grand Junction. Her contacts told her there was nothing to the claim, she said, adding that she tried to impress upon them her dislike of the idea of a boycott of this nature.One day in late October, following Schwartz's talks with industry officials, Jean Johnson said, "We had a flood of business. But that was a one-time deal. Nobody's been back."She added that the boycott, if it exists, might also be related to a decision to permit a "sign garden" in front of the restaurant where signs of various political persuasions were stuck into the ground.While Jean Johnson is a Democrat, Geno Johnson is an independent, and Vance Johnson is a Republican."We kind of have a split household," she said with a laugh. "But we get along. We don't boycott each other for voting a certain way."Johnson said she had heard of, but has not seen, a company letter sent by Williams officials encouraging the boycott."I've never seen anything in writing," she emphasized.But regardless of the cause, she said, she does not believe her business is in danger of closing down."I don't intend to," she said in a determined tone, though she admitted having to cut wages and hours rather than lay off any of her email@example.com
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