CHEYENNE -- COVID-19 just hit close to home.

Way too close.

No, I'm not sick. Neither is anyone I know. But, there has been a pair of casualties -- in a sense -- that have happened in my life over the past few weeks.

When I was just 16 years old -- two very long decades ago -- my parents, John and Kathy Brent, purchased a restaurant in Pine Bluffs, a town of just over 1,000 residents on the Nebraska border off Interstate-80. We had never really been to Pine Bluffs before. In fact, I seem to recall asking if that town was even in Wyoming.

Chelsea, John and Kathy at the 2016 Mountain West Championship game in Laramie.

It is. And for the past 20 years, Rock Ranch Grill has been a major part of our lives. Nearly every day, my parents made the 90-mile round-trip trek from Cheyenne to run a restaurant known for 16 oz. prime ribs, perfectly cooked ribeyes, burger nights and cold beer.

Now, the doors are closed forever.

The financial toll of this worldwide pandemic was just too much to overcome.

To make matters even worse, my parents opened another restaurant right next door, Cafe 307. That was a breakfast-lunch joint. For the past five years or so, farmers, ranchers and others packed every seat in the house.

That too is now a thing of the past.

It's still surreal.

I think about cooking on the line on Valentine's night. The whole window was full of tickets and there was a growing stack on the side that never seemed to stop. "Order in! Order in! Order in!"

I don't think I've ever worked so hard in my life.

Playing the role of bartender during Trail Days was always pure chaos. The entire town seemed to show up -- and then some. The annual street dance kept me cracking beers all night long.

I took first dates to Rock Ranch. My buddies and I would have big dinner parties. Waiting tables helped pay my way through college.

My aunt Kari worked there. So did my sister, cousins and close family friends.

For my folks, though, this place was their whole life.

They missed plenty of baseball games, vacations and other monumental moments in my life. Same can be said for my sister, Chelsea. That comes with the industry. I always understood that aspect of it no matter how much I hated it at the time.

That restaurant was like a family member. That seems pretty extreme, but it was that important to my parents. It was important to me, too.

Sure, I cussed its existence more times than I care to think about. I had fits of rage on busy nights when I was so slammed waiting tables I couldn't think straight. I resented it because my parents talked about it non-stop. But I loved it.

I loved telling my friends that my family had two restaurants.

It's funny, when I met my wife, Emilee, I told her that. She told me her father was a pilot. We both thought we were marrying into money. We were both dead wrong.

Running a restaurant is mostly a labor of love. We never went without, but excess wasn't in our vocabulary either. We went on a family vacation once to Lambeau Field in Green Bay for a Broncos-Packers game. That's the only family trip I remember. My parents flew to Michigan for my wedding in 2017. They got to stay for two whole days.

Had to get back to their baby.

Now what?

This virus, thankfully, has not been physically harmful to my family. Emotionally, well, that's a different story. What's weird is we haven't even had time to mourn the losses. Heck, we can't even be in the same room right now. I know my parents are hurt. I am, too. I just don't know how to show it.

That's why I came to the keyboard. Rarely do I get this personal in columns. Never have I written one in my 12-year career that didn't involve sports. This seemed like the right time.

Pine Bluffs supported us for so long. We will always be so grateful to that community. In the end, though, we just couldn't close the doors for this long. The damage was done.

I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. My parents wouldn't want that either. If I have one request it's this -- take care of each other. We all know Wyoming is a small town with long streets. Please support our local businesses.

I am sure thankful for ours. Without these companies, there is no 7220sports.com:

  • 2 Doors Down (Cheyenne)
  • Pine Bluffs Auto Parts
  • Trendy Nails (Cheyenne)
  • Automatic Garage Door (Cheyenne)
  • Laramie Peak Motors (Wheatland)
  • White's Frontier Motors (Gillette)
  • State Farm (Statewide)
  • Tactical Xteriors (Casper)
  • Home Town Printed Apparel (Douglas)
  • Capital Real Estate Partners (Cheyenne)
  • Express Employment Professionals (Cheyenne/ Laramie)
  • The Library (Laramie)

And, yes, Rock Ranch and Cafe 307.