In the Preservery in RiNo. Photo courtesy Preservery
to eat and drink
From hiring issues to 100 percent occupancy starting May 16, culinary professionals share their views on what’s good and what’s bad right now.
• May 13, 2021
It was the best time, it was the worst time. Okay, it might not be the best time, but at least not 2020. As restaurants look to summer 2021 there are reasons to be hopeful and nervous about what is to come. We asked six restaurant owners how they are feeling right now. Here are their attitudes towards good, bad, and inability to hire.
Attitude and staff
It’s an incredibly difficult time to hire workers. “We can’t get enough manpower to do the job. That is our greatest challenge. Now that there are people who want to come out safe and eat, we have trouble finding people who can work. I think it’s a combination of people who left the industry because they sadly lost their jobs last year and did something else. Some are uncomfortable with customers in this environment; others may be happy about their unemployment, which will continue for the next several months. We have fundamentally reduced the number of seats we serve. Technically, according to the rules, we could accommodate more people than we are; The point now is to have enough people to serve them. I think our guests are really looking forward to going out again. We feel that the demand is there – it’s about meeting and serving it. “- Laura Feder Rosenberg, co-owner of Blackbelly and Santo in Boulder
But the workers that some have are great. “We have the best team we have ever had. When you go through this collective trauma together and see the ups and downs as well as the scary moments and triumphs, we have just weathered many storms together. We like to work together and believe in what we do. We have never faced tougher realities than last year, and we still know we want to. We basically had to reduce it to the bare minimum [of workers] At the beginning people who wanted to be here and see through it, who stayed with us. It’s a great team and we feel so happy. “- Whitney Ariss, co-owner of Preservery
The costs are increasing. “Everything from labor to raw materials is rising, and inflation is really strangling us right now. Limited capacity and inflation are the biggest hurdles we have faced during this pandemic. There is only so much you can increase in price. “- Sasha Zanabria, owner of El Taco de Mexico
Capacity and Limitations
Most Denver metropolitan areas can expect restaurants to be 100 percent busy by May 16, which is exciting. “We are in a strange situation. We opened on July 23, 2020 and obviously had limited capacity constraints – 50 percent at the time, then 25 percent, then we closed in November, then we reopened as takeaway pizza, and in February we returned to French food. I have a feeling we opened three restaurants last year. For the first time we are definitely optimistic. Stress levels have dropped significantly as the weather has become nicer and we are seeing increased levels of comfort in people who go out to eat. We joke that it will be strange, that it will go back to normal because we never saw normal [at our restaurant]. We have a counter and bar for a chef and we never could seat them. The restaurant never worked as planned. If we can just get a few people through the door, we’re good. “- Justin Morse, co-owner of Brasserie Brixton
However, some are nervous about the relaxation restrictions. “I want everyone to feel safe, and some of the restrictions may have been lifted a little hastily. We’re in no rush to go back to parties and DJ brunches, things that people just walk around at. We are sure that we will stick to reduced capacity. We have established ourselves as a safe haven. I was at high risk so we were very conscious of taking extra precautions. It changed the mood [of the restaurant]and people come here and expect it. It’s all about the team, but we don’t want to break the trust of our guests either. We don’t want things to feel unsafe in order to generate more income. “- Ariss
Are the restaurants prepared for the change? “In a word, my greatest concern would be readiness. Is the restaurant ready to be 100 percent back? I have four or five front-of-house employees who have never seen the restaurant run at 100 percent capacity. You don’t know the regular layout. It will be interesting to prepare everyone for our crowd to be back. “- Jon Levin, Operations Manager at the Piper Inn
They hope for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). “We are thrilled that it is happening. I appreciate that we can apply and have access to it. I think it will be very helpful. I am sad about certain restaurants that failed and had to close their doors before they could receive the PPP or benefit from this work. I hope some that are temporarily closed can take advantage of this and bring it back to life. In restaurants, it takes very little to go wrong for everything to collapse. So we are happy about the RRF. “- Feder Rosenberg
However, some small businesses feel that the RRF will primarily benefit large businesses. “The bigger the gross revenue gap between 2019 and 2020, the more free money there is [via the RRF]. And who is the beneficiary? Restaurants that financially sustained the 2020 closure for an extended period. Who is staying out? Instead, small independent restaurants had to open to do business. Many smaller independent restaurants do not have deep pockets, so they had no choice but to open with limited capacity during the pandemic to pay rent and pay employees. One unexpected consequence of RRF is that those restaurants who worked hard during the pandemic end up receiving nothing or very little [RRF] Formula. This is abuse that small restaurants, many of which are locally owned by minority and immigrant communities, do not deserve. It’s kind of demoralizing. “- Jay Zheng, owner of Volcano Asian Cuisine