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Colorado restaurants face ‘catastrophic’ situation as new COVID-19 restrictions loom
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. Lake House Kitchen & Tavern opened in Littleton in January of this year. Located near Columbine High School and overlooking the Johnson Reservoir, the idyllic neighborhood eatery employed close to 70 people when it opened its doors.

A couple months later, the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the United States. The restaurant quickly dropped to only a half-dozen employees.

Since then, the staff at Lake House Kitchen & Tavern has grown to roughly 40 employees, just over half the original staff. But as Colorado continues to set new highs in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, the restaurant will be forced to once again impose more restrictions.

Colorado Voices

Indoor Dining Paused

3:22
Published:

Due to new COVID-19 restrictions indoor dining is not allowed in many Colorado counties.

On Friday, November 20, at 5 p.m., at least 15 counties in Colorado will be moving to Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 Dial Dashboard. Included in the list is Jefferson County, home to Lake House Kitchen & Tavern. Behind Level Purple, Red is the second-most restrictive level on the dial. Counties in that level must close indoor dining at restaurants, close bars, and limit gyms to 10% capacity. See all the restrictions here.

Mario Vega is the founder of Lake House Kitchen & Tavern. He said the restaurant will shift to mostly takeout dining under the new restrictions, but that the silver lining is outdoor service can continue. He said the restaurant has purchased ice fishing tents from Cabela's, the outdoor recreation retailer, to set up on the patio, as well as portable heaters.

Vega said the biggest challenge is that there is no clear end in sight when it comes to the pandemic. He doesn’t know if he has to plan to operate under heavy restrictions for a month, two months, etc. “Are we going to be in this state until next April?” he wondered. “We’re almost just holding on to see how long our grip can hold on for.”

In a statement to Rocky Mountain PBS, Colorado Restaurant Association CEO Sonia Riggs said the new restrictions would be “catastrophic:”

"There's no getting around it, these new restrictions are going to be catastrophic for this industry. According to our most recent survey, we could lose 24% of the restaurants in counties entering this new Severe Risk level in less than a month. This feels like an especially difficult blow considering there is little evidence tying dining to surging cases - most spread is happening in private gatherings. If we want our restaurants to survive, they need significant cash help. We ask the State to pass meaningful relief for this industry as quickly as they can, and we ask local governments to continue to support local restaurants with grants and loans, rent and mortgage assistance, and reduced regulatory costs. And we ask the public to avoid private gatherings, to wear masks, and to wash hands to get these numbers down as quickly as possible so we can reopen. We also ask the public to please continue to order takeout and delivery and dine outdoors - consider what you'd lose if you lost your favorite restaurants and understand that they are on the brink. They need your help to get through."

Riggs also recommended restaurant workers visit this link for COVID-19 support services.

Vega is also trying to avoid furloughing members of his staff again. “We really wish there was something set up for our employees so that we knew they’d be getting some sort of assistance when they’re not working,” Vega said.

Governor Polis earlier this week expressed similar concerns about the lack of assistance for small businesses from the federal government. In the meantime, the governor has called the Colorado General Assembly to meet for a special session to put together a small business relief package, housing and rental assistance, support for childcare providers, and expanding broadband access so students can learn from home.

Speaking of the federal government, Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia said, “congressional inaction and partisan bickering has left millions stranded and completely abandoned at a time when there is the greatest need.”

For now, Vega said there are no immediate plans to furlough any of the staff, but that if things don’t improve it’s possible they could lose up to 75% of the restaurant’s employees. “Hopefully we can hold on to as many employees as we can,” he said. “We don’t think we’ll go back to six [employees] like the first time around. It could be a dozen.”

When we asked Vega if he thinks the restaurant will eventually have to shut down, he said that in the back of his mind, he doesn’t believe they’ll have to. “But it’s a very real concern,” he added.

“We’re not looking to put money in the bank,” Vega said. He said he just wants to keep people employed, and survive.

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