Eight Months Since the Pandemic Hit, Here's the Toll on Restaurants

Vesta closed after more than twenty years in LoDo.
Vesta closed after more than twenty years in LoDo. Courtesy of Josh Wolkon
Today, November 17, marks eight months to the day when Governor Jared Polis's executive order closing restaurant dining rooms took effect. Bars and eateries limped through the next two months with takeout and delivery (aided by the addition of to-go liquor), and were eventually allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity on May 26.

But back on March 17, the blow to revenue was immediate. Most food and drink establishments laid off large portions of their staff, slowly bringing back employees as federal PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans kicked in and customers began returning once dining rooms opened (at 50 percent capacity or fifty patrons, whichever was less) and restaurants expanded their patio options.

But with colder weather and an upsurge in COVID-19 cases, restrictions tightened once again; dining room capacity was lowered to 25 percent on October 27 for at least thirty days, and in Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock announced a 10 p.m. curfew that was peddled as a "Home by 10" order on November 6.

That wasn't enough to bring down the COVID numbers, though.

On the eight-month anniversary of the first shutdown, Polis announced a new level of restrictions that multiple counties, Denver included, are expected to move to on November 20. While he isn't calling it a shutdown, those restrictions include the closing of dining rooms. Outdoor dining will be allowed, but with no more than one household per party; takeout and delivery can also continue. But last call will be at 8 p.m.

Even before this not-quite-a-lockdown hit, the pandemic and subsequent revenue losses had taken quite a toll on Denver's restaurant scene.
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Racines was already more than twenty years old when it built a new restaurant — fourteen years ago.
During the pandemic, the Colorado Restaurant Association has been conducting regular surveys of its member restaurants, who report that sustaining their operations is becoming more and more difficult. As of November 12, 91 percent of restaurants reported that sales were down by an average of 40 percent for summer 2020, compared to summer 2019. And 45 percent of them reported that they would have to consider closing in less than three months if the current 25 percent capacity restrictions continue. That number goes up to 50 percent if dining rooms are shut down again.

Which many will on November 20.

The downturn has affected restaurant workers, many of whom remain unemployed; 78 percent of restaurants reported that their staffs are smaller than at this time last year.

So is the number of restaurants in metro Denver. A number of eateries never reopened after the March shutdown (some owners decided the time was right to retire a concept, or maybe themselves); others opened and then closed when the realities of running a restaurant during a pandemic just grew too challenging.

Here's our list of all the locations that have shuttered since March (names in bold were on our December 2019 Eat Here list of 100 essential Denver restaurants):

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation