When COVID closed Casa Bonita, one Colorado family built it at home
This story is one in a series featuring trips down memory lane with longtime Casa Bonita fans and former employees who shared their fondest tales with The Denver Post. The restaurant and entertainment venue in Lakewood is expected to reopen in May.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, shutting down businesses and locking locals at home, it ruined spring break plans for school-age kids nationwide. But for one Westminster family, it wasn’t enough to ruin their annual trip to Casa Bonita.
Sure, the famed restaurant closed in 2020 and is only now on the cusp of reopening in May. But casa means “home” in Spanish, after all, so locals Quinn and Brent Waller decided to surprise their three children that spring by bringing the experience in-house – complete with mariachi performances, couch diving and sopapillas delivered on demand with the wave of a handcrafted red flag.
As a Denver native, Quinn Waller grew up visiting Casa Bonita during spring break. And once she had kids of her own, she carried on the annual pilgrimage to the pink palace.
“It’s a joke obviously because the food there was or is less than appealing, so it’s like, once a year whether you need it or not, you go and have fun at Casa Bonita,” Quinn Waller told The Denver Post.
To keep the tradition alive, Quinn and Brent developed a plan to recreate Casa Bonita’s lively environment the best they could. While Brent took the kids to a park one day, Quinn built Black Bart’s cave in the basement using tarps and blankets. She ordered takeout from the family’s favorite local eatery, Rosita’s Mexican Restaurant, and put on a wig.
Once the kids walked in the door, Waller greeted them like a server, showed them to their table and instructed them on how to use the red flag to order sopapillas.
Westminster parents Brent and Quinn Waller reenact the gorilla skit from Casa Bonita during a surprise pop-up for their kids during spring 2020. (Provided by Quinn Waller)
Paddy Waller, then age 12, raises his homemade red flag for more sopapillas. The family ordered takeout from their favorite local eatery, Rosita's Mexican Restaurant. (Provided by Quinn Waller)
Brent and Quinn Waller lip-sync to mariachi music, which is a staple of the Casa Bonita experience. (Provided by Quinn Waller)
When Casa Bonita closed in March 2020, Westminster parents Quinn and Brent Waller decided to build a pop-up version at their home to fulfill their family's annual spring break tradition. Attractions included a recreation of Black Bart's cave in their basement, Mexican food takeout including sopapillas, a piñata, and reenactments of the gorilla and gun fights. (Provided by Quinn Waller)
Brent and Quinn Waller reenact the gorilla skit from Casa Bonita. (Provided by Quinn Waller)
“My husband and I reenacted the gorilla and the shoot-out fight. Instead of cliff diving, we did couch diving, so we would do somersaults into the couch,” Waller said. “Neither of us plays instruments, but we lip-synced to mariachi music and we got a little piñata on Amazon and filled it with candy to do a piñata outside.”
When it came time to explore Black Bart’s cave, Waller hid in the basement’s dark corners and jumped out to scare the children, then ages 12, 10 and 7, recreating beloved memories that harkened back to her days as a kid.
Casa Bonita wasn’t the only local attraction the Wallers recreated that spring. They also built an Adventure Golf & Raceway-inspired putt-putt course in their backyard and crafted fair games to resemble Disneyland’s Midway Mania ride, both intended to transport the kiddos to the places they’d typically visit while out of school and alleviate the boredom of being stuck at home.
The Casa Bonita pop-up lasted “one special night” in 2020 and did not return in 2021 or 2022 despite the restaurant’s closure, Waller said. But that’s made the anticipation for its reopening even greater in her household.
“Everyone’s excited to go back and see it eventually,” Waller said. “I’m so curious — obviously, they hired this big-name chef and whatnot — how the new is going to mix with the old.”
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