For so many restaurants across Colorado racing this week to reopen their indoor dining rooms, many others decided reluctantly to do so – or not at all.
Even in a good year, the worst restaurant sales start in January just after the holiday season. But during this first full pandemic winter and after a sluggish second stimulus plan, January promises to be especially hopeless for those struggling to stay in the services industry in 2021.
“In France, restaurants close for the entire month of August,” said Hamidou Dia, co-owner of Le French at the Denver Tech Center. “Maybe we should learn from our French background and close here for the month of January.”
Hamidou and his wife, Aminata Dia, are just two independent restaurant owners who reluctantly decided to risk a 25% reopening in early January, in light of the announcement made by Colorado Governor Jared Polis last week.
Late in the evening on December 30, Polis announced that starting Monday, all 33 Colorado counties would be moved to orange level on the state’s COVID-19 dial. This profound shift primarily affected indoor business operations, allowing restaurants, gyms, and cultural institutions to reopen indoors at 25% capacity.
But restaurateurs like Die Dias and others felt torn. An increase in restaurant capacity in Colorado comes immediately after a new and 50% infectious strain of COVID-19 hits the state, and health officials will not know for at least another week if the holidays resulted in a virus surge.
Then there’s the issue of the latest round of funding from the paycheck protection program, which could take weeks to become available to businesses, and in the meantime, restaurants could face another round of tightened restrictions. For public health, financial, and personal reasons, these independent restaurant owners do not lightly make decisions about making a living.
Hyoung Chang, the Denver Post
Bob Jones (left) and Melissa Shelton have a glass of wine in the outdoor dining room of The Bindery in Denver, Colorado Tuesday. January 5, 2021. The restaurant reopened 25% indoor under Level Orange.
“I’m afraid this shift in the level of public safety does not reflect what is happening in the hospitals, or that it comes too early or even sends the wrong message, no matter how difficult it is for me,” Linda Hampsten told Fox Monday night Email as she prepared to reopen her dining room at The Bindery in the Lower Highland the next day.
In Le French, Hamidou Dia said he and his wife almost closed the restaurant for a month, but they opted for a 25% reopening just before the end of the year following Governor Polis’s announcement.
“I think financially it would have been better for us to stay closed,” he said.
“And the stress in my head too,” added Aminata. “I think it would have been a good time to take a break and prepare for the next steps.”
The Slides say they choose to continue working at a loss in January, only for their employees who would otherwise navigate a broken unemployment system and who were quite shaken by the second restaurant closings in the fall. But other restaurateurs say they have to close for now, regardless of morale.
“The sobering reality is that our small businesses are saving more money – paying rent and utilities – during this hibernation than if we were operating at reduced capacity,” wrote Aileen and Paul Reilly, who run Beast + Bottle and Coperta restaurants in Uptown Denver own by email.
“To be honest,” they added, “we don’t see 25% capacity as a financial opportunity. We still had problems at these levels in November. We will stick to our plan and continue to hope that the (case) numbers will decrease. “
Gabrielle Andreozzi, 27, has been a Coperta server for over two years. She said she was surprised by Reillys’ decision to close for a few months this winter, especially after building outdoor greenhouses and learning about the indoor meal allowance.
“I was concerned about the intention to shut down, just like the last shutdown,” she said. “But last time several people were fired altogether, so it is hard for me not to be asked to come back.”
Now, for the second time in a year, Andreozzi is managing unemployment with ease. She says she earned about 40% of her previous year’s income in 2020, including restaurant shifts and unemployment combined.
“This second time was much more difficult,” said Andreozzi. “I’m bringing in less money and have not been accepted for further extensions of things like car payments (and) student loans… My initial unemployment has expired and now I’m waiting for pandemic-specific support. In the past few years, I’ve had up to four jobs, two of which were full-time. So my income was way higher than the $ 15,000 I received before tax last year. “
With Andreozzi applying for a job and her employer waiting for paycheck protection (which lasted seven weeks in the spring), 25% of the slides are again working indoors. Your customers at Le French seem grateful, they say, calling them to ask how they’re doing and commenting on the restaurant’s security logs.
At The Bindery this week, Hampsten Fox focused on keeping her restaurant area as safe as possible using an advanced HVAC system that includes 14 Mitsubishi air units spread across 25-foot ceilings and a 50-foot door wall design open to the outside world.
“We’re lucky,” she said. “If our room were different, we wouldn’t open again.”
However, Hampsten Fox believes that as part of the pandemic, which is ongoing in Denver, where the five-star certification process has not yet begun, restaurants should be assessed individually at this level. Under this program, companies that are county certified in advanced health and safety practices can operate with lower restrictions and increased capacity.
For example, restaurants in counties that are now at the orange level may move to the yellow level (50% indoor capacity) after the county maintained a “7-day trend for average orange-level incidence,” according to the Colorado Department . for public health and the environment.
But at Le French, Hamidou doesn’t see the restaurant increasing indoor capacity to 50% anytime soon, even if allowed. And Hampsten Fox will have to give just as serious thought to further capacity increases at The Bindery for reasons personal to her and her husband, a doctor in Denver.
“With my husband risking his life treating COVID patients and after losing my brother-in-law to COVID this summer, I want my staff and guests to stay as safe as I would like for my family,” she said. “This is a restaurant and a lot of people worked very hard to make it what it is today, but in the end it is just a restaurant.”
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