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'Better than nothing': Colorado restaurant owner on the return of indoor dining
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LAKEWOOD, Colo. Restaurants in Colorado have been in a state of constant adaptation during the COVID-19 pandemic. From alcohol sales to indoor dining to financial assistance, it has been a lot to keep up with.

The most recent changes went into effect January 4 after Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CPDHE) permitted all counties in Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial dashboard to move to the less-restrictive Level Orange, despite the confirmed presence of a more contagious version of the coronavirus that has led to a national lockdown in the United Kingdom, where the variant was first detected.

For restaurants, the move to Level Orange means increased capacity for indoor dining: they will be able to seat 25% of their building’s capacity, but no more than 50 people total. Under Level Red, indoor dining was prohibited.

Sixty of Colorado’s 64 counties were in Level Orange as of January 4. That includes Jefferson County, home to African Grill and Bar.

“It’s good news,” said Theodora Osei-Fordwuo, owner of the Lakewood restaurant, about the eased restrictions on in-person dining. “But I wish they would give us more percentage. Because at 25 [percent capacity], I can’t pay anything. But at least it’s a good start.”

Colorado Voices

Restaurant owner reacts to return of in-person dining

Rating: TV-PG

In-person dining has returned, but owners worry it won't be enough to stay afloat

Credit: CDPHE

“Our goal is to empower counties to operate with the least restrictions possible, while at the same time ensuring protection of the public’s health and Colorado’s hospital capacity. We are closely monitoring disease transmission while working to provide much-needed economic relief by allowing businesses to operate with fewer restrictions,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of CDPHE, in a news release.

Individual counties still have the power to implement their own restrictions separate from the state’s dial dashboard, so Jefferson County’s Level Orange restrictions are slightly more restrictive than the state’s guidelines. For example, “indoor events are limited to 25% capacity or 25 people...whichever is smaller."

Osei-Fordwuo explained that winter months are always challenging for restaurants because of the cold weather, and that the restrictions in place due to COVID-19 make things more difficult for the business. She said there are days when only two people will call to order takeout.

“A lot of people didn’t want to come and sit outdoors, which I understand,” she said. “We just want people to know that we are open for dine-in.”

Rocky Mountain PBS spoke with Osei-Fordwuo as she prepared a spinach stew and a tomato stew. She emphasized the lengths that her restaurant goes to to protect its patrons: bottles of hand sanitizers are stationed throughout the establishment, tables are spaced out, and outdoor dining is still available for those who want it.

“We’re going to do as much as possible to prevent diseases coming through our door,” she said.

While she didn’t hesitate to open her restaurant to indoor dining, Osei-Fordwuo wishes more people were allowed inside. However, it is “better than nothing,” she explained.

Now that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being distributed in Colorado—roughly 114,000 Coloradans have been vaccinated as of January 4Osei-Fordwuo hopes people “fall in line and take the shot so that we can all be free.”

“Let’s all remember that we all need each other, so let’s come in and do it together. That is the key; togetherness is the key,” she said. “That has been my slogan, because I believe that if we are always togetherno matter how difficult it iswe’re able to overcome it.”

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