A sign on the door at Earnest Hall, 2915 West 44th Avenue, reads: "We would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to be part of your neighborhood. While we had our hearts filled with optimism, uncertain times have guided us to making the difficult decision to close indefinitely."
Earnest Hall had just opened for business on February 25, three weeks before all Colorado restaurants were ordered to close their dining rooms because of the pandemic, so it never had the chance to gain momentum before health and safety restrictions caused a considerable downturn in customers. But the word "indefinitely" leaves room for the possibility that the restaurant could reopen at some point in the future.
Joe Vostrejs, co-founder of City Streets Investors, which owns the building, says that business was great at Earnest Hall during the first three weeks. After it sustained storm damage, City Streets had done a major renovation of the structure, opening Earnest Hall as an updated version of its previous incarnation, Ernie's Bar & Pizza, with the same pizza-and-pasta concept, plus a coffee and grab-and-go counter for breakfast and lunch. But the breakfast and lunch component hadn't even been rolled out before the pandemic hit.
"It's a pity to have to mothball it for the time being, but the cost of operating it was exceeding the cost of just holding it," Vostrejs notes.
Temporary closures could become more common as fall and winter cause restaurant owners to look at the numbers and see if it makes more sense to put operations on hold rather than limp through a slow season with no outdoor seating possibilities to entice customers.
At the Way Back, 3963 Tennyson Street, owner Kade Gianinetti has made the decision to close after October 30 and stay closed until springtime.
A message on the restaurant's Instagram account explains the situation:
After much thought and consideration, we have made the necessary choice to close for the winter. Friday, October 30th will be our last day of service. The reality of having a small indoor space going into winter, coupled with the financial burden of COVID-19 makes this difficult decision the only option for us. In doing so, we hope to remain viable to open back up in the spring when we can be outside again. We are so grateful for everyone who has supported us through this challenging time, and we will miss each and every one of you. In closing, we still have five weeks left to see each other and serve up many delicious things! Thank you for all the love and friendship, and we look forward to seeing you all over the next month and again in April.
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"It's not ideal, but it's better than most options out there," Gianinetti points out. "This is what can happen when a restaurant and landlord work together to come up with a solution. We're not only facing regulations, but making sure we do a responsible job with COVID."
Gianinetti says that the temporary closing is a positive thing, since it will give his team a chance to regroup over the next few months and stay safe — which has been a challenge, considering how small the Way Back's dining room and bar are. "I've got to give credit to everyone who was there day to day to even get us to this point," he adds, mentioning general manager Eli Kerlin, assistant general manager Kathy Laveau and chef Dylan Rigolini.
"There's no crystal ball for this, but this winter is when we'll see the true teeth of COVID and the government's decisions about how they're funding restaurants, or if they do," Gianinetti adds.
Not every restaurant and landlord is in the position to push the pause button on all operations, but if such moves continue to happen, Denver could resemble seaside resort towns that board up for winter until tourists and their dollars return in the spring.