Denver Government

Denver City Council Approves Revamp of Food Licensing System

The overhaul affects every restaurant in Denver (pictured: Bar Dough).
The overhaul affects every restaurant in Denver (pictured: Bar Dough). Molly Martin
Following a January 3 unanimous vote by Denver City Council, the Mile High City now has an overhauled food licensing system that officials say will make the application and renewal processes easier and more equitable.

"We are striving to become the most business-friendly city in the state while keeping public safety protections in place. This proposal is a major step to accomplishing those goals," says Eric Escudero, a spokesperson for the Department of Excise & Licenses, which brought the legislation forward.

The two most significant changes are a major reduction in the number of fee categories that food businesses can fall under, and also the establishment of flat $150 rates for application fees for wholesalers and restaurants.

Escudero notes that 81 percent of retail food businesses in Denver will see no change or reduction in licensing fees, while 85 percent of wholesale food businesses will see a reduction in their annual fees.

"We estimate that these updated fees will be some of the lowest in the state compared to other large cities," Escudero says, noting that this licensing overhaul is one of Denver's largest since 1950.

Until now, Denver had a convoluted food licensing system. Potential applicants, as well as Excise and Licenses staffers, have had to look through two separate ordinance provisions to figure out which of the seven application-fee categories and 31 licensing-fee categories an applicant fell under.

For example, wholesale food outlets fell under different categories based on whether they were making canned food products or fresh meat, and also depending on how many employees they had. There were different application fees and annual renewal fees for all of these categories.

The new system creates a uniform fee of $150 for an application and $150 for each annual renewal for wholesalers.

Similar to how wholesalers were categorized, restaurants and other retail food outlets had even more options, depending on the number of employees and the type of food produced. The legislation creates a $150 fee for restaurant license applications and then an annual licensing fee ranging from $25 to $225, depending on certain food and preparation risk factors.

"It’s already challenging enough to successfully operate a restaurant or any business selling food. This will make it much easier and hopefully improve the bottom line for the food service industry because it will reduce the necessity for some to hire lawyers and compliance managers," Escudero says.

The code change also keeps licensing for temporary restaurants, food peddlers and ice cream vendors the same. Right now, temporary restaurants don't have to pay any application fee but must pay an annual licensing fee of $100 plus $10 per day for the first five days of the event. Meanwhile, food peddlers have $25 application fees and $50 annual licensing fees, while ice cream sellers have to pay $50 application fees and $25 per year to stay licensed.

And going forward, all of the licensing processes will be handled online, though an in-person option is available if needed.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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