On March 5, 2020, five days after the finale of last year’s Denver Restaurant Week — the sixteenth annual celebration of the city’s culinary scene designed to coincide with a slow time of year for restaurants — Colorado registered its first COVID-19 case. By March 17, all restaurants across the state had been ordered closed for anything other than takeout and delivery. In late May, most were able to reopen their dining rooms at very limited capacity levels, but it’s been a tough, tough time for the dining industry.
To help businesses hit hard by the pandemic, Visit Denver hosted a special fall Denver Restaurant Week, which started on November 13 and ran through November 22 — two days after dining rooms were suddenly again ordered closed as COVID-19 cases spiked.
Dining rooms were finally allowed to reopen — again, under limited capacities — at the start of the new year; since then, restrictions have loosened further, with restaurants now looking at 50 percent capacity. Still, the industry can use all the help it can get, so Visit Denver will soon serve up another Denver Restaurant Week. This year's edition has been pushed back two months, to more patio-friendly weather, and will run from April 23 through May 2.
“We have done this for seventeen consecutive years, but it has never meant more to the restaurants and to the community than it does this year,” says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver (and, long ago, a bartender at the legendary Duffy’s Shamrock). “Our nationally recognized and award-winning culinary scene is a huge part of Denver’s brand and destination appeal, and these restaurants, as well as their hardworking staffs, need our support more than ever.”
Restaurant signups just started; 254 participated in February 2020, and 187 signed up last fall. Visit Denver is looking at a big turnout this spring as the vaccination rollout continues to cut COVID-19 numbers and restaurants face fewer restrictions. Once again, participating eateries will offer multi-course meals at price points of $25, $35 or $45 — and they'll be available for takeout and delivery, as well as in-person dining, whether enjoyed indoors or on a patio.
And, as if you needed more reasons to dine for a good cause this spring, the DRW dates will overlap with a very good one: Project Angel Heart, which is marking thirty years of providing meals for people living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening conditions, had to pivot and transform its traditional April fundraiser, Dining Out for Life, into Dining IN for Life last year. That was just the start of the changes the organization went through in 2020. Executive chef Brandon Foster suddenly passed away on a hike last summer, and Project Angel Heart just introduced new executive chef Brett Newman in February, the same month it served its eight-millionth meal.
For its big 2021 fundraiser, Project Angel Heart had already been planning a week-long event starting at the end of April, rather than a single day reserved for Dining Out for Life, when it learned that its dates overlapped with Denver Restaurant Week.
"It was an accident, but it will end up being a happy accident," says Tera Prim, new vice president of development for Project Angel Heart. After talking with Visit Denver, the organization shifted its Dining Out dates slightly to exactly align with Denver Restaurant Week.
And that's not the only shift. In the past, participating eateries all agreed to donate a percentage of the tab on Dining Out for Life to Project Angel Heart; given what a tough year it's been for restaurants, the organization had already decided to make that optional. (Project Angel Heart will asterisk the spots that are still donating a percentage "for our tried-and-true donor base," Prim notes.) Instead, Project Angel Heart will suggest ways that diners can help out through participating restaurants — and now Denver Restaurant Week will share those suggestions in its own messaging.
"There are great cross-marketing opportunities," says Prim.
And no good excuse for not helping out. So plan on getting out and dining out at the end of April — whether in a DRW or Dining Out for Life restaurant (the lists are certain to have plenty of overlap), or by grabbing a to-go meal from a participating spot.
Both Denver Restaurant Week and Dining Out for Life will run from April 23 through May 2. Denver Restaurant Week menus will go live March 31 here. Meanwhile, Project Angel Heart is in the process of shifting a few Dining Out for Life details on its website; watch for updates here.