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The institution at the center of Rep. Lauren Boebert’s origin story now appears to face an uncertain future.
Shooters Grill, the gun-themed Hooters parody restaurant that put Rifle, Colorado, on the map and elevated Boebert to local celebrity status, has run into some trouble with its new landlord—a marijuana retailer.
But her landlord isn’t all that new. And the story, which has gone through several iterations over the last week, isn’t exactly adding up.
As it stands, the landlord has told Boebert he will revoke the restaurant’s lease at the end of August, and send Shooters packing. The rest is up in the air.
Boebert told The Daily Beast that she and her husband, Jayson Boebert, had been surprised to receive the notice last week announcing that their lease would not be renewed. The building’s ownership changed hands last month, she said, and now Shooters would either have to find new digs or shut down for good.
But the day after that notice arrived, an anti-Boebert political group somehow got word that the timeline was even tighter than that—two weeks, the group said, putting the possible ouster just days before Republicans hit the polls for primary day.
Her employees hadn’t heard that yet, so Boebert scrambled to quash that rumor, which she characterized to The Daily Beast as rank misinformation. Still, the truth stood: The restaurant she and her husband founded eight years ago was on the brink of closing.
She didn’t explain exactly why her business was being kicked out. A person familiar with the arrangement said the property manager felt he had a “moral” imperative to close the business, and had planned to lease the space to another restaurant.
Boebert told The Daily Beast at one point that she and her husband were “at peace” with ending their run, and did not plan to fight the order. But as the plot thickened politically, she bought some time.
Now she says she’s entertaining two contradictory options: The original shutdown plan, or buying the building outright from the new owners. She won’t say which she and her husband are choosing until after the primary.
Shooters was central to Boebert’s rocketship ascent to federal office, but it hasn’t been a financial success. The restaurant turned in a streak of six-figure annual losses leading up to Boebert’s 2020 election, and struggled to stay above water even after she shot to fame as a MAGA darling. She said it had been a lot of work balancing the stress and drama of running a restaurant against her legislative duties 1,800 miles away, and she often found herself turning to her mom to pick up the slack. That struggle is partially why she at first saw the closure as a blessing.
Jayson Boebert also appears to have had his hands full. Between 2019 and 2020, as Shooters was losing money, he pulled in nearly $1 million as a contracted shift worker for oil and gas outfit Terra Energy—though Lauren Boebert appears to have reported the wrong source of that income on her federal financial disclosures.
A buyout would appear unusual—and not only because the Boeberts had apparently decided less than a week ago that they would wind down the business—but also because the new owners bought the building less than a month ago. If they chose to sell, it would be a near-instant flip—morally and financially.
But they’re not exactly new owners. In fact, it’s the same family.
The company that took over the Shooters building, Milkin Enterprises, was formed days before the purchase, according to Colorado business records. And the two men on the Milkin Enterprises incorporation documents—Mike Miller and Dan Meskin—run a cannabis dispensary, Rifle Remedies, which until 2019 shared a street address with Shooters, according to state filings.
Boebert told The Daily Beast that Shooters had cut its previous rent checks to Dan Meskin’s father—Mike Meskin, who owned the building through Meskin Enterprises. She didn’t remark on Dan, who was named in a local Post Independent story from 2016 as the building’s property manager.
It’s not clear what morality the new owners are acting on. County records indicate the father-son deed transfer went through on May 26, two days after the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas. That same day, Boebert remarked that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “We didn’t ban planes.”
Just days after Boebert first grabbed the national political spotlight for confronting Beto O’Rourke on gun control in Aurora, Colorado—site of a movie theater massacre—the Rifle Remedies storefront changed its address from the Shooters building, according to state business records.
Neither Dan nor Mike Meskin appear to have made any political contributions. While Dan Meskin’s wife is not a big donor—about $225 total lifetime contributions—she made a few small-dollar gifts to Democrats trying to defeat Boebert in 2020 and last year. The two other Meskins don’t appear to have made any political donations.
It’s unclear why Boebert would appear unfamiliar with the “new” owners, as she suggested in phone calls. It’s also unclear why those owners wouldn’t have been familiar with Boebert, who claimed to have “first option to buy” the building—an option that Mike Meskin, and possibly his son Dan, would have given her personally.
Boebert, who repeatedly dismissed the possibility of a political motive behind the ouster, did not say whether she was offered that option to buy. But she told The Daily Beast that Milkin Enterprises now appeared open to a sale.
“He said, ‘If you’re still interested in purchasing, I’m interested in selling,’” she told The Daily Beast.
But Shooters—whose gun-packing waitresses attracted international attention as a roadside novelty long before Boebert stepped into the political arena—has never lived high off the hog.
The restaurant lost more than $600,000 in total between 2018 and 2020, according to Boebert’s financial disclosures, and it appears to have struggled with annual tax obligations, incurring a number of liens totaling nearly $20,000, the Denver Post reported.
A series of articles in 2014 boosted the novelty restaurant’s profile, turning it into something of a “tourist trap,” as one former employee described it to The Daily Beast. Shooters has marketed itself as a Second Amendment-positive business, where waitresses open-carry loaded firearms on their hips and serve up menu items like a “Swiss and Wesson” sandwich.
“The customers love that they can come here and express their rights,” Boebert said in a 2014 CBC interview. “We called it ‘Shooters’ and started throwing guns and Jesus all over the place.”
Some of those waitresses, however, were too young to carry—and a rare few chose not to, one former worker told The Daily Beast. One of them appears to have been on probation for a year in which she worked at the restaurant, and would have been prohibited from carrying a firearm.
This former employee said that, unlike some other servers, she wouldn’t pack a loaded gun at work, and soon stopped carrying altogether.
“I was tired of getting maple syrup on my Glock, running my gun into the corner of the bartop,” she explained.
The Boeberts never seemed able to keep a steady grip, the employee said, though they certainly would put in the work, with Lauren Boebert sometimes even pulling shifts as a cook.
And it was the Shooters cooking—though not Boebert’s—which caught bad press in 2017, when the restaurant’s pork sliders caused mass diarrhea at the Rifle Rodeo.
“I did not eat that day, because I saw who was cooking and I knew better,” a former employee told The Daily Beast.
“There were Mexicans back in the kitchen, and if they were cooking, I would eat. But not this cook,” she said, adding that the cook responsible for the food poisoning would often “scratch his balls” on the job and routinely “drop food on the floor.”
(The Daily Beast could not independently substantiate these claims.)
Boebert’s elevation to household name, along with her aggressive publicity operation, appear to have helped buoy the business over the last two years. While not exactly swimming in cash, Shooters is now at least above water.
Asked about those finances, the first-term congresswoman told The Daily Beast that the grill is “not in the red,” and made its June rent.
“Does a restaurant ever turn a profit?” Boebert joked. “No, we’re doing fine. We’re not in the red, we’re—we’re in the black, so it’s a lot better than last year.”
Perhaps conveniently, though, the Boeberts have tabled the family decision until after the primary.
“I had a conversation with my husband and we decided that after the election, we would get together and talk about maybe purchasing the building,” she said.
“That’s in six days,” she added.