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If this were a normal year, we’d just step back from the table after the ten-day orgy that’s usually Denver Restaurant Week. But this is not a normal year.
On March 5, 2020, five days after last year’s Denver Restaurant Week finale – the sixteenth annual celebration of the city’s culinary scene to coincide with a slow season for restaurants – Colorado recorded its first COVID-19 case. Through March 17, all restaurants across the state were closed for something other than takeaway and delivery. At the end of May most of them were able to reopen their dining rooms with very limited capacity, but it was a difficult time for catering.
To help businesses hard hit by the pandemic, Visit Denver hosted a special Fall Dining Week in Denver that began November 13 and lasted through November 22 – two days after the dining rooms suddenly closed again when COVID-19 cases increased.
At the beginning of the new year, the dining rooms – again with limited capacities – were allowed to reopen. Since then, the restrictions have eased further, and restaurants now have 50 percent capacity. Even so, the industry can use whatever help it can get. Visit Denver will soon host another Denver Restaurant Week. This year’s edition has been postponed by two months to more terrace-friendly weather and runs from April 23 to May 2.
“We’ve done this for seventeen years in a row, but it has never meant more to restaurants and the community than it did this year,” said Richard Scharf, President and CEO of Visit Denver (and long ago bartender at the legendary Duffy’s Shamrock). “Our nationally recognized and award-winning culinary scene is a big part of Denver’s brand and destination appeal, and these restaurants and their hardworking staff need our support more than ever.”
Restaurant registrations have just started; 254 took part in February 2020 and 187 registered last fall. Visit Denver expects a large turnout this spring as the introduction of vaccination will further lower COVID-19 numbers and reduce restrictions on restaurants. Once again, the participating restaurants are offering multi-course meals at prices of US $ 25, US $ 35 or US $ 45 – and they are available for take-away, delivery and personal dining, whether indoors or on the terrace.
And as if you needed more reasons to dine for a good cause this spring, the DRW data overlaps with a very good one: Project Angel Heart, which has been serving meals for people living with HIV / AIDS and other living for 30 years – Last year, the threatening conditions had to transform the traditional fundraising campaign in April, Dining Out for Life, into Dining IN for Life. This was just the beginning of the changes the organization went through in 2020. Chef Brandon Foster suddenly passed away on a hike last summer, and Project Angel Heart introduced new Chef Brett Newman in February, the same month he had his eight millionth meal.
For its big fundraiser in 2021, Project Angel Heart had already planned a week-long event that began in late April, and not a single day reserved for Dining Out for Life, when it learned that its dates were overlapping with Denver Restaurant Week.
“It was an accident, but it will be a happy accident,” said Tera Prim, new vice president of development for Project Angel Heart. After speaking with Visit Denver, the organization moved its Dining Out dates slightly to align with Denver Restaurant Week.
And that’s not the only shift. In the past, all participating restaurants have agreed to donate a percentage of the Dining Out for Life tab to Project Angel Heart. Given the difficult year for restaurants, the organization had already decided to make this optional. (Project Angel Heart marks the spots where a percentage is still being donated to “our trusted donor base.” Instead, Project Angel Heart suggests ways in which diners can help through participating restaurants – and now Denver Restaurant Week shares those suggestions on their own Messages with.
“There are great cross-marketing opportunities,” says Prim.
And not a good excuse for not helping. So plan on getting out and eating out in late April – whether at a DRW or Dining Out for Life restaurant (the lists are sure to overlap a lot) or by grabbing a take-away meal from a participating location.
Both Denver Restaurant Week and Dining Out for Life run from April 23rd to May 2nd. Denver Restaurant Week menus will go live here on March 31st. In the meantime, Project Angel Heart is moving some details about Dining Out for Life on its website. Watch out for updates here.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; She has been an editor since then. She regularly participates in the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a true journalist in John Sayles’ Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton with flip-flops, and has won numerous national awards for her columns and feature writing.