Across some of Denver’s most beloved gathering places on Tuesday, the effects of a citywide, eight-week-long restaurant and bar closure were swift and devastating — and the shutdown has only been in place for one day.
Following Mayor Michael Hancock’s Monday announcement that all businesses would halt dine-in service in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus, some restaurateurs laid off their entire staff, and many are unsure if they’ll have a business for workers to return to when this is over.
Ninety-one employees received an email that they were laid off immediately from Punch Bowl Social in Stapleton. More than 100 workers were left without jobs at Union Station’s Mercantile and its sister restaurant, Fruition.
The Frasca family of four Denver and Boulder restaurants laid off 205 people. Restaurateur Bryan Dayton did the same for around 200 workers between his Boulder and Denver restaurants. And at Jennifer Jasinski’s five Crafted Concepts, 238 people lost their positions.
While Big Red F restaurants haven’t held layoffs, the company has eliminated or dramatically reduced hours for 611 workers, according to a representative.
That’s more than 1,400 workers at just six restaurant groups in the city.
“We’re hearing from restaurateurs around the state that they’re having to cut all or most of their staff and in many cases, dramatically reduce hours for those they can keep on,” Sonia Riggs, CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said over email. “It’s hollowing out the industry.”
The larger restaurant industry in Colorado accounts for more than 294,000 jobs, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association, or 10% of statewide employment. By 10 a.m. Tuesday, the state received about 6,800 attempted unemployment insurance filings.
“The thing is it happened so fast, so quick, you just don’t know how to navigate something like this,” said Bryan Dayton of Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality. “It’s not like some big corporation, either. This is a small community.”
Dayton’s decade-old restaurant group operates two locations in Denver (Acorn and Brider) and two in Boulder (Corrida and Oak at Fourteenth). He said that even offering takeout and delivery, which he’s doing in order to stay afloat during the shutdown, would only account for a few jobs salvaged.
“It’s absolutely sickening, to be honest with you,” he said. “There’s just no pathway at this point. We’ve had to let everybody go except for upper management … Holy s***, and that’s just us. I think you’re going to see a lot of (business) fallout in the next four to eight weeks, for sure … I think emotional and mental health is going to be the next phase of this, and obviously if people are hungry and financially (suffering)… .”
Despite the immediate financial blowback, restaurateurs aren’t pushing to reopen. Right now, Bobby Stuckey said he doesn’t even want a handful of people working in the same space together across his four Denver and Boulder locations.
“The governor did the exact right thing, and Mayor Hancock,” he said. “Now all of D.C., both sides of the aisle need to get insurance companies in the room… This is just a tragedy.”
As owners like Stuckey and Dayton looked over their insurance policies with lawyers leading up to Monday’s announcement, they realized they had little or no options. Stuckey discovered that infectious diseases aren’t included in coverage for “business interruption” because no direct physical loss has occurred at his building.
“No one would be getting laid off if the insurance I dutifully paid for did what I paid for,” he said. “This is just horrific.”
Cheyenne Langis, 24, is a chef at one of Stuckey’s restaurants, Tavernetta. She and her team heard news of the shutdown on Monday, their last day of service for the next two months. Now, she’s hoping for government intervention.
“I just think without that, I don’t know if we have a fighting chance,” she said. “I feel positive … but I do want people to know that we are struggling and it’s terrible. Walking outside the past few days, I just see people in unbuttoned restaurant and bar uniforms. Every hour they’re getting laid off. And I was, too.”
On the same day she filed for unemployment, Langis started thinking about possibilities to keep working and feeding people — a pop-up food pickup service with a fellow chef, for example.
“Who knows when we’re going to get (unemployment checks),” she said. “I want to boost positivity during the hard times we’re going through.”
Riggs, with the Colorado Restaurant Association, said she expects to see a relief package focused on aid for employees pass through Congress in the next 24 hours. “After that, congressional focus will turn to relief for impacted businesses,” she added.
The CRA is also working with state and local governments to come up with other ways to help restaurant businesses and workers. In other cities, relief has come sooner: Charleston, S.C. has suspended hospitality tax collection for 90 days, asking the state and federal governments to do the same for its businesses.
By Tuesday evening, a petition on change.org asking Gov. Jared Polis “to announce a COVID-19 relief package” for the food and beverage industry had 13,998 signatures. The One Fair Wage campaign had launched an emergency fund to support service workers across the country. The Colorado Restaurant Association is updating a list of resources for local businesses and employees on its website.
As he traveled through Union Station from one empty restaurant to another on Tuesday, Alex Seidel — who owns Denver restaurants Mercantile, Fruition, Chook and Fudmill — said he was doubtful of government aid but sure that, for his 100 or so laid-off employees, “we aren’t going to let anybody slip through the cracks.”
“I mean, I’m not really banking on any relief at this point. It’s hard to fathom that, we’re kind of low on the totem pole,” he said, adding, “I’m not so worried about the next two weeks. I’m really worried about weeks four through eight for our team, and really trying to be thoughtful about it, so we can be there for those weeks.”
In addition to thinking about providing insurance for 80 percent of his staff, making meals for them over the next two months and other solutions, he’s considering what’s at stake for the food system, for farms and other purveyors.
“Products are going to get scarce,” he said. “We all just have to hunker down, take a little bit of a two-month hiatus, live a little bit more conservatively, try to help each other where we can help each other.”
This content was originally published here.