A year ago today, Anita Gray, owner at CYCLHOPS Bike Cantina, received the call with the news that she had to close the restaurant’s indoor dining space to the public.
“It was a time filled with so much uncertainty and darkness because we didn't know we would be here today,” she said.
A year later, she and owners across the state are joining Gov. Jared Polis in urging people to go out for a meal or order one for pickup or delivery to celebrate the survival of Colorado restaurants and to ensure they can continue “fighting the epic fight,” as Gray describes it.
Polis proclaimed March 16, 2021, “Dine Out to Help Out Day.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the survival of this critical industry, and the people it employs,” Polis stated in the proclamation. “Restaurants need the support of all Coloradans to recover from this crisis.”
The state restaurant industry annually generates more than $14 billion in revenue and $380 million in sales tax revenue, which accounts for 10% of Colorado’s workforce, Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said during an industry briefing earlier this month as reported by 5280.
While COVID-related restrictions have loosened in the 12 months since that March 16, 2020, closure order, the proclamation on the one-year anniversary date is a great help to local restaurants, said Scott Cook, CEO of the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We are seeing growing numbers of people going back to restaurants but we have to remember these businesses have been suffering for quite some time and it will take quite a while, and events like this and more in the future, to secure these businesses and build them back up,” he said.
On Feb. 6, Boulder County moved from orange to yellow status on the revamped state’s COVID-19 dial, which allows 50% capacity, or up to 150 people, in restaurants’ indoor spaces.
Last week, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law creating the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, considered “the most important recovery tool for the industry to date,” according to the National Restaurant Association.
Gray, also a member of the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said even with the loosened capacity restrictions and support available to businesses, it’s important for people to know that restaurants still need them.
“It's been a long year and recovery is still happening,” she said. “Having the event, (Dine Out to Help Out), is just a call out for people to support restaurants who are still fighting the epic fight including the weather and limited capacity restrictions.”
For CYCLHOPS, being at orange or yellow level on the COVID dial does not make much of a difference because the restaurant’s square footage limits how many people can dine indoors and still maintain adequate distance from one another.
“Takeout orders are a huge lifeline for us right now,” she said.
For Rosario Cardenas, owner of Rosario’s Peruvian Restaurant, being able to serve customers throughout the pandemic has meant making significant changes to her operations, as well as the plan for the business.
“A year ago we closed our doors and started taking takeout orders,” she said “… The pandemic has taught us a big lesson, we never can say it cannot be done, there are always ways to keep moving forward.”
Through federal Paycheck Protection Program loans and other government support, Cardenas has been able to stay afloat and keep her staff members employed, something she considers a top priority.
“The most important thing for us was to keep our workers employed because they also have families to provide for, and we had to keep up their hours as much as we could,” she said. “We have learned many things as a business, that we can diversify in many different ways, such as with the use of technology to get to our clients. … The pandemic was a moment for reflection to show us there is a lot more to be done.”With close to eight years in business in Longmont, Cardenas said she feels lucky to be a part of the community and wants to share her appreciation with her customers today.
“What I should highlight is how thankful we are to our customers for their constant presence, there were many days we didn’t know if we would be able to even pay our staff, but there was always someone who would leave a good tip or share encouraging words,” she said. “Longmont has welcomed us in a very surprising way and has really gotten to know the food of my country.”
To celebrate Dine Out to Help Out Day, Rosario’s is offering a buy one, get one half off special on the stuffed potato.
Gray said, “On this day a year ago today we heard we had to close doors for dine-in. Let’s celebrate the fact that those (restaurants) you are able to order out from are still there to serve.”