Diners 'want to support independent businesses,' Centennial restaurant owner sees

Tap and Grill along Arapahoe Road adjusts for winter, indoor dining closure

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Business owners have to try anything in this environment, said Steven Langer, owner of 2 Penguins Tap and Grill in central Centennial.

That's why Langer created a drive-thru lane to serve his restaurant's Colorado-based beer to patrons who want to show support during the indoor dining shutdown that took effect in November in the Denver metro area and other regions of the state.

It wasn't successful, but Langer isn't fazed.

“We ran it for 10 days, and we had three cars come through,” Langer said. “The bottom-line reason is people are set in their paradigm — people are used to sitting in their Chick-fil-A lines for 25 minutes” but not so for a tap-and-grill restaurant.

Though the public didn't adjust to his drive-thru idea as he would have liked, Langer has his hopes invested in several other new restaurant features.

“We purchased in October six fire-pit tables, and they've gained a lot of traction,” said Langer, watching a patio of diners sitting at his tables. “People call. They want to wait for those — they sit in their car and wait until those are open. We're getting three more fire pit tables, so we'll have nine total.”

The eatery has also installed five heated fabric tents with tables inside of them — to enable eating “even in terrible weather,” Langer said

“We also made tables out of beer kegs — it's a fun atmosphere,” Langer said.

The changes have come partly with help from the Colorado Restaurant Association, an organization that supports the state's foodservice industry. The organization's Outdoor Grant Program is an effort to help restaurants winterize outdoor space for dining amid the challenges restaurants face in the pandemic.

Langer knows the struggles firsthand: 2 Penguins laid off 30 people in March amid the indoor dining shutdown. It rehired 18 in June. After a few more hires, the staff grew to about 24 over the summer.

“Now we're down to eight,” Langer said, due to the level-red restrictions imposed on the Denver metro area and other regions of the state. He intends to bring the employees back when he can. The restaurant is making just 18% of the revenue it brought in at this time last year.

“I wouldn't have remained open during the pandemic, but I have too many great employees,” Langer said. “And this way, I can basically lose the same amount of money but keep eight or 10 of them employed. And that's really important to me.”

2 Penguins isn't a franchise or chain — it has just one location at 13065 E. Briarwood Ave., east of Peoria Street and Arapahoe Road. Langer ran the business as the Terrace Gardens Event Center starting in 1998, but he and his team “reimagined” it as the tap and grill in 2015, he said.

“I had a business partner, Ernie, for 34 years — he died, and his wife is our 'silent partner,'” Langer said.

The large building holds up to 800 people in normal conditions, Langer said.

“We used to do two events at one time. Now we have the tap room open at one side, with the casual events on the other side,” Langer said. He added: “Our guests come in and we want them to feel like they're in our home.”

Shannon Sullivan, 54, and Julie Wismann, 44, sat at 2 Penguins Tap and Grill on a cold afternoon with a mix of some sun and light snow. The two friends from Aurora said they're trying to support local businesses who are struggling under Colorado's public health restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus. Finding restaurants with heat is a challenge, Wismann said.

“We definitely appreciate the people trying to adapt and overcome,” Sullivan said. “These guys are trying to figure it out, and it's not easy.”

Langer is seeing some optimistic signs — patrons have been receptive to the new outdoor seating, and they're showing support.

“Our tip average for our staff is 23%, which is 5% higher than it normally is,” Langer said. “And it's because people want to support the servers and they want to support independent businesses.”

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