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CJ’s Diner, which drew loyal customers, to close after 22 years

Co-owner Jerry Martinez challenged COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants
CJ’s Diner, co-owned by Jerry Martinez, is closing after 22 years. The location in the 800 block of East College Drive will become Rupert’s at the Edge on Aug. 8. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

CJ’s Diner, a breakfast and lunch spot that amassed a loyal following during its 22 years in Durango, is permanently closing July 29.

An open house will be held from 8 a.m. to noon July 30 to give customers a chance to say their goodbyes.

In less than a month, on Aug. 8, Rupert’s at the Edge, a diner operating in Edgewater near Denver, will move into the 2,000-square-foot space at 810 East College Drive.

CJ’s Diner is known for its comfort-food breakfasts, special-event catering and tight-knit relationships. It also became a lighting rod of controversy during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdowns, when the restaurant defied state and local shutdown orders intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

A judge ordered the restaurant be closed, and owners Carrie and Jerry Martinez eventually complied. But they also filed a lawsuit against the state and San Juan Basin Public Health arguing the shutdowns were unconstitutional. The lawsuit was dismissed earlier this year.

Martinez said the restaurant needed to stay open to employ staff members and keep his business on solid financial footing. He said the diner would not have survived doing pickup and delivery service alone.

“That took a toll on not just us, but on this whole community and the restaurant businesses as well,” Jerry Martinez said.

Jerry Martinez coached basketball and served as president of the Hundred Club of Durango. He is closing CJ’s Diner and moving to San Antonio after being in business for 22 years in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Martinezes opened CJ’s in 2000, after Jerry spent the previous 27 years working at Lori’s Family Dining on north Main Avenue where Durango Doughworks currently operates. Throughout his ownership, Martinez always emphasized strong community values.

He cared about his customers and being involved with their lives.

“What makes us unique is we know our customers. ... We know when somebody dies or someone’s sick or whatever it is – we’re there. And we’ve walked through things with people in their lives,” he said.

Martinez has plenty of favorite diner moments but one that resonates with him was catering the First Baptist Church’s Night to Shine event. Night to Shine is a prom-style event for people with special needs hosted every year by the church.

“Just to see people rally and come together to help make this thing happen was, to me, one of my biggest highlights,” Martinez said.

The Martinezes plan to move to San Antonio, where they look forward to starting a new chapter.

It was a bittersweet decision for the couple, who have spent so much time in Durango. Jerry Martinez was highly involved in other ways with the community, including coaching basketball and serving as president of the Hundred Club of Durango, which helps law enforcement families with scholarships and financial donations during times of tragedy.

“Durango, to me, will always be home,” he said. “And maybe someday we make our way back. But for now, we just feel like this is what we should be doing.”

Martinez said he wishes the best for the new restaurants moving into his space. He said people love small business stories, because every person has a story to tell.

Martinez said he has introduced some of his regular customers to the owners of the new restaurant as a gesture of good faith.

“Usually, there’s about six or seven of them,” he said of a core group of regular customers. “They all sit together and talk about (how) they’ve been going through withdrawals (with CJ’s leaving). So it’s good that they got to meet this new owner.”

Martinez hopes he was able to make a positive impact on people’s lives and develop meaningful relationships, whether it be by giving someone a job, coaching someone or buying someone’s animal at the La Plata County Fair.

Martinez said the future is exciting, but he will miss his regular customers and all they did to promote CJ’s Diner. He is moving to San Antonio but hopes to travel to other places like Alaska, Ireland and Oregon.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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