Workers laid off, food given away as Denver restaurants prepare for a new shutdown

As the rest of Denver braces for tightened coronavirus restrictions starting at 5 p.m. Friday, the food service industry is busy donating food and laying off workers.

In accordance with the latest Level Red restrictions, Denver restaurants are in the process of shutting down indoor dining and moving last call to 8 p.m. But some businesses have decided to close altogether for now, while others will rely solely on takeout. A relative few are able to accommodate heated, outdoor single-family seating.

The effects of these latest restrictions remain to be seen and felt, but as of Nov. 14, new unemployment applications in the state reached 22.6% higher than the previous week, with 9,171 regular claims filed compared to 7,483 for the week ending Nov. 7. During the last week of October, accommodation and food service workers filed the most initial unemployment claims of any industry in Colorado, accounting for 16.9% of regular claims filed.

Also that week, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surged, restaurants in Denver began readjusting to incremental, near-weekly reductions in business. On Oct. 28, their indoor dining room capacities were reduced to 25%. On Nov. 8, a 10 p.m. curfew for dining out was enacted. As of Friday, all indoor dining stops indefinitely, and last call is moved to 8 p.m.

Stephen Julia, who owns three bars in the Denver area, says he agrees with the stricter measures taken by the city and state governments. But of the incremental process of closing down restaurants, “This is worse,” he said. “We all kind of feel like we’re going to get shut down fully anyway, in a couple of weeks. It’d be better to just tear off the Band-Aid.”

Since Wednesday, Julia and his team have been giving away their remaining food supply at their downtown bar Brass Tacks to staff members and any customer who comes in to order a cocktail. He says his business would be losing more money if it stayed open now. But he’s worried for his employees.

“I don’t have high hopes for us, but I really want our people taken care of,” Julia said.

At Denver restaurants Beast + Bottle and Coperta, co-owner Paul Reilly is “listening to local leaders who are saying, ‘Stay home,’ ” and opting to temporarily close down all indoor and outdoor dining. As of Friday, Reilly and his sister, Aileen, are furloughing two-thirds of their remaining staff, which is already down to around 40% of its pre-pandemic numbers.

“It was gut-wrenching to pull the same employees back yesterday and say, we’re going to furlough you,” Reilly said, explaining that his weekly profits had dropped by as much as 40% after the new round of restrictions in October.

Reilly says he agrees with local and state mandates, but “without government help, we will not survive,” he added. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Justin Morse owns Brasserie Brixton in the Cole neighborhood, a small French restaurant that opened after the start of the pandemic and therefore doesn’t qualify for government aid, he said, from Payroll Protection to local grant programs.

“Couldn’t we have at least gotten Saturday service before closing?” he wondered. “A chance to go through our stocks and get a profitable service in?”

Morse explained that shutting down and then reopening, expanding patios and switching menus to takeout all require capital. “These aren’t even Band-Aids for small operators like us who are operating week to week, just rolling over what bills we can,” he said.

As Morse and his team consider changing their French restaurant to a pizza business temporarily, Julia and his co-owners attempt to spread shifts out among their workers at two remaining businesses. And Reilly is thanking his staff and reminding them to make this final indoor service count.

“This is probably the last night that someone’s going to be dining in a restaurant for quite some time,” Reilly said Thursday. “If we show them an experience, then hopefully they’ll remember why restaurants are worth saving.”

Subscribe to our food newsletter, Stuffed, to get Denver food and drink news sent straight to your inbox. 

Source: Read Full Article