With the rest of Denver preparing for tightened coronavirus restrictions starting Friday at 5 p.m., the food service industry is busy donating food and laying off workers.
In compliance with the latest Level Red restrictions, Denver restaurants are in the process of closing indoor dining and moving the last call to 8pm. However, some companies have decided to close entirely for the time being, while others rely solely on takeaway. Few can accommodate heated single-family spaces outdoors.
The effects of these recent restrictions remain to be seen and felt, but as of November 14, new jobless claims in the state hit 22.6% more than the previous week. 9,171 regular claims were filed, compared with 7,483 in the week ended November 7th, the last week of October, housing and hospitality workers first submitted jobless claims of any industry in Colorado, representing 16.9% of regular claims.
Also that week, as COVID-19 cases and hospital stays increased, Denver restaurants began to adjust to gradual, nearly weekly, business declines. On October 28th, the indoor dining room capacity was reduced to 25%. A curfew was imposed on eating out at 10 p.m. on November 8th. Starting Friday, all indoor meals will be indefinitely suspended and the last call will be postponed to 8 p.m.
Stephen Julia, who owns three bars in the Denver area, agrees to stricter measures from city and state governments. But about the gradual process of restaurant closure: “This is worse,” he said. “We all have the feeling that in a few weeks we will be completely shut down anyway. It would be better to just tear off the plaster. “
Since Wednesday, Julia and his team have been giving the rest of their groceries in their Brass Tacks bar in the city center to employees and customers who order a cocktail. He says his business would lose more money if it stayed open now. But he’s worried about his employees.
“I don’t have high hopes for us, but I really want our people to be looked after,” said Julia.
At Denver’s Beast + Bottle and Coperta restaurants, co-owner Paul Reilly “listens to local executives say ‘stay home’” and decides to temporarily close all indoor and outdoor meals. As of Friday, Reilly and his sister Aileen will employ two thirds of their remaining employees, which already corresponds to around 40% of the prepandemic.
“It was nerve-wracking to step down the same staff yesterday and say we will take them on leave,” said Reilly, explaining that his weekly profits fell by up to 40% after the new round of restrictions in October.
Reilly says he agrees with local and state mandates, but “we will not survive without government help,” he added. “It just won’t happen.”
Justin Morse owns Brasserie Brixton in the Cole neighborhood, a small French restaurant that opened after the pandemic began and is therefore not eligible for any state aid, from wage protection to local grant programs.
“Couldn’t we at least have Saturday service before we close?” he asked himself. “A chance to search our inventory and receive profitable service?”
Morse explained that shutting down and then reopening, adding to decks, and changing takeaway menus require capital. “These are not even band aids for small operators like us who operate week after week and just think about what we can do,” he said.
While Morse and his team consider temporarily converting their French restaurant into a pizza shop, Julia and his co-owners try to split the shifts among their workers in two remaining businesses. And Reilly thanks his staff and reminds them that this last indoor service counts.
“This is probably the last night someone will dine in a restaurant for some time,” Reilly said Thursday. “Hopefully, when we show them an experience, they will remember why it is worth saving restaurants.”
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