Food News

Restaurant Blames Understaffing on "Government Handouts"

The 9th Door is looking forward to brighter days.
The 9th Door is looking forward to brighter days. Gabrielle Bye
No one likes a hypocrite: That's the message that critics have been delivering as they serve a local restaurateur with a hot, steaming platter of snark.

This past weekend, a sign appeared on the front of the 9th Door, an upscale tapas eatery at 925 Lincoln Street. It read:

"Sadly, due to government handouts no one wants to work anymore. Therefore, we are short staffed. The 9th Door will temporarily be closed on Sundays until we can find more staff. We apologize for any inconvenience and we look forward to brighter days ahead!!"

The kicker? The 9th Door, under Woodenspoon LLC, received $216,583 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans during the pandemic.

"The 9th Door, like most other Colorado restaurants whose business was devastated by COVID, did accept PPP loan money, the majority of which (in order to be forgiven) must be used to pay employees that we’re having trouble hiring, or it goes right back to the government," 9th Door owner Brian Murphy tells Westword.

Murphy says he removed the sign shortly after he put it up, but not before someone snapped a photograph that was soon posted on Next Door and Reddit, alongside the company's PPP history, which inspired outraged comments and negative reviews on the 9th Door's social media and business pages.

Murphy attempted to placate a few Facebook users by explaining the reasoning behind the sign — but his apology for "the tone implied by the sign" seems to have fanned the flames, judging from more recent Facebook comments (which, to his credit, Murphy has left up).

"In hindsight, I regret the tone implied by the sign we posted on our door, and that it upset our customers," Murphy says. "It’s been a very difficult year, and I’m a human and small business owner who let my resulting emotions and frustrations get the better of me for a moment. We removed the sign shortly after it was posted and have been doing our best to have a dialogue with those folks since."

In explaining how difficult things have been for restaurateurs, Murphy cites a recent survey conducted by the Colorado Restaurant Association, which polled almost 200 operators this spring. According to the poll, 90 percent of those surveyed reported trouble hiring new staff, and 65 percent said they believe unemployment benefits are the main obstacle to hiring. Murphy also points to Governor Jared Polis's hiring incentive program, which offered $1,600 to Coloradans on unemployment who signed on to a full-time job by May 29, and $1,200 to those who find a job by June 26.

"As an independent chef/owner of the 9th Door, and someone who spent the last 27 years working my way up in many, many restaurants, paying a living wage has always been something I’ve worked very hard to do, despite the way the industry is structured and the very slim profit margins most restaurants – ours included – are able to make," says Murphy, who told CBS4 in January that he was against increasing the state minimum wage due to the pandemic. "Whether through hourly wages or a combination of wages and tips, all of our employees make above Colorado’s minimum wage, and we value them tremendously."

The first 9th Door opened in 2005 at 1808 Blake Street and added the spot at 925 Lincoln in 2013. Murphy bought that site in 2017; the original 9th Door on Blake closed in April 2018.
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Gabrielle Bye, a former editorial fellow at Westword, writes about news, politics and food. In her spare time, she loves to enjoy nature and eat locally.
Contact: Gabrielle Bye