The failure of a small, family-owned and operated business is painful enough. Everything you worked to build for years is gone. Your finances are ruined. You are embarrassed.
But when you feel like you've let others down, too, that pain is compounded.
That's the case for Randy and Nancy Bolen who abruptly closed their Peak Grill on Centennial Boulevard a couple weeks ago. They shut down after 14 years serving breakfast and lunch to folks in Mountain Shadows, Holland Park and the surrounding northwest area. Randy said the restaurant finally succumbed to soaring food costs, the recession and a knockout blow last summer from the Waldo Canyon fire which killed two in Mountain Shadows and destroyed 347 homes, many of them owned by regular Grill customers.
But they feel even worse because their closure has orphaned a group of veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
For the past four years, the group has met at the restaurant on a monthly basis, even creating a "Greatest Generation" wall inside of photos, news clippings and other memories. They gathered to make new friends, to share war stories, to enrich their twilight years by surrounding themselves with a shrinking group of vets who alone can understand what they endured on the battlefield.
Randy knows those monthly lunch meetings were pretty special in the lives of these vets and he's sick to think his closing also might doom the group's activities.
"I so hope another restaurant or business or organization will step up to honor these people," Randy said of the veterans.
A new home, at least for now, has been found at Denny's restaurant at 315 W. Bijou St., at the intersection of Interstate 25. But some wonder if any restaurant can ever recapture the special feeling that existed at the Peak Grill.
It started as a one-time event in 2009 when Randy and Nancy offered a free lunch to all World War II vets on the anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
"Nancy and I were watching a History Channel show about the war and we cooked up a scheme to honor our local veterans on Pearl Harbor day," Randy said. "We had such a good response we decided to do it monthly."
So on the second Tuesday of every month, veterans gathered at the Peak Grill for a deeply discounted lunch, often a guest speaker, and to make new friends.
"At our last lunch meeting, we had close to 100 people," Randy said. "It was one of the most satisfying things about the business."
One of the regulars was Henry "Duke" Boswell, 89, who was drawn by the opportunity to commiserate with fellow GIs who could relate to his own war experiences as a paratrooper in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Boswell was among the fearless paratroopers who jumped into the night, drifting down behind enemy lines as a prelude to key invasions including the daring D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces launched a pivotal offensive against Nazi Germany.
"We jumped at midnight, the night before D-Day in a town near the coast about two miles behind the landing beaches," Boswell said. "Our job was to grab the crossroads and bridges that led to the beaches and stop the Germans from reinforcing the beaches."
In not many places can you find someone to nod knowingly and appreciate stories of Germans firing at you as you floated to earth with tracer bullets whizzing past your parachute. It's a special kind of camaraderie that the Bolens and Peak Grill offered.
"I feel terrible about them closing," Boswell said. "They did it out of the goodness of their hearts. It was a great project."
Jane Rodgers is hoping to preserve the lunch program.
Rodgers, whose husband was a Vietnam veteran, helped the Bolens coordinate the lunches as the program grew.
But with the next lunch meeting scheduled Sept. 10, she was running out of time in her effort to find a restaurant willing to host dozens of war vets. Then she called the Denny's.
"We're more than happy to have them here," Denny's manager Nate Bellamy told me. "I guess a lot of other restaurants couldn't accommodate them. But we can. We're looking forward to it."
Rodgers and Boswell hope all the veterans who were regulars at Peak Grill will drop by Denny's at 11 a.m., Tuesday, to join them for lunch.
As Boswell noted, they can't waste too many opportunities to meet because many are in their 80s and 90s.
"It's just a good, friendly meeting," Boswell said. "Absolutely, I'll be there. It would be a shame to let it die."
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