A dark Bastille Day in Summit | SummitDaily.com

A dark Bastille Day in Summit

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Eric Drummond

BRECKENRIDGE ” Arielle Coutouzis’ dreams of hosting an authentic Bastille Day celebration at Breckenridge’s Le Petit Paris tonight came crashing down this week when Colorado Department of Revenue agents seized the Adams Street bistro for non-payment of taxes.

“I’m not surprised. I’m really, really shocked,” the Paris native said tearfully. “We had no warning ” none.”

Staff of the 52-seat French eatery ” listed as “No. 1 of 56 Breckenridge restaurants” on the Internet travel website TripAdvisor ” were preparing for their usual 5 p.m. opening last Wednesday afternoon when officials ordered everyone out and changed the locks on the doors.

Coutouzis, who owns the business with her husband, Yanis, knew they owed the state money, but insists they were never told the business could be shuttered at any time.

She offered to give the agents about a third of what they owed on the spot in order to keep the doors open, but it wasn’t enough.

According to the state revenue department, the Coutouzis are a little more than $18,000 behind on their sales and withholding tax payments. In business since Feb. 2007, they fell behind almost immediately, and have made no sales tax filings at all since January.

“We just didn’t have the cash flow,” Arielle said, in her heavily accented English. “We paid when we can.”

Expecting a busy July and counting on a business loan in August, the Coutouzis hoped to remit the entire shortfall by the end of the summer.

And with 100 Bastille Day reservations, scheduled entertainment, and an elaborate menu planned in honor of the French national holiday, the state’s action couldn’t have come at a worse time. Instead of preparing her restaurant for the happy celebration, Arielle has been calling customer after customer ” explaining and apologizing.

The timing may have been unfortunate, but the Coutouzis had plenty of warning, Colorado Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said.

“When somebody falls a month behind, they start getting notices,” he said. “They know they face imminent seizure.”

According to Couch, the revenue department seizes about two businesses a day in Colorado.

Last week alone, the Coldstone Creamery in Dillon and Grease Monkey in Frisco were both closed down for tax delinquency.

By the time the state takes action, it’s too late for the business owner to make anything less than a full payment, he added.

If the Coutouzis are unable to find the $18,000 by July 29, the state will auction the business assets to cover the debt.

The revenue department’s unwillingness to negotiate was particularly hard to swallow for Arielle and her husband.

“I understand it was a mistake, but they could’ve given me a week,” she said.

Some of the restaurant’s frequent customers expressed surprise at the state’s action.

“I can’t help but think something must be lost in translation,” Breckenridge resident Katie Krebs said.

“There was no indication anything was coming.”

Krebs and her fiance, Guy Natanel, appreciate the atmosphere at Le Petit Paris so much they scheduled their wedding rehearsal dinner there for next week.

“It’s fantastic,” Krebs said. “Arielle greets you at the door with a huge welcoming smile. I don’t think you’ll ever have a warmer experience dining in Breck.

They’re not just giving it lip service.”

As for their pre-wedding dinner, scheduled for next Monday, both Krebs and Natanel said they hope Arielle will be able to reopen by then, but if not, they’ll adjust.

“We’re not worried about it,” Natanel said.

“We just hope it works out for them,” Krebs said.

“And the minute they reopen, we’ll be the first in line to eat there.”

Meanwhile, the Coutouzis will continue to look for cash.

Although still visibly upset about their plight, Arielle said she believes her $40,000 investment in Le Petit Paris was the right one.

“When you bring food, you bring love,” she said, explaining her commitment to her restaurant and to the Breckenridge community.

“I love the people here. It’s a love story between them and us.”

Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-4651, or at hhamilton@summitdaily.com.

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