Restaurant workers are taking another hit under Colorado’s second indoor dining shutdown of the coronavirus pandemic — part of the state’s latest round of public-health restrictions aimed at flattening Colorado’s steep spike in COVID-19 cases.
At Moe’s Original Bar B Que in Englewood on South Broadway, 90% of staff are on furlough, according to Moe’s general manager J. Grantham.
“We’re running on a bare-bones crew of all managers, working doubles,” Grantham said. “It put stress on the family, put stress on us, but we’re Moe’s BBQ — we’re going to do whatever we need to be here for customers when this is all over.”
Colorado moved Denver metro-area counties — including Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson — to a new “level red” of pandemic-related restrictions effective Nov. 20. The new level prohibits indoor dining and personal gatherings, moves the last call for alcohol up to 8 p.m., and tightens capacity limits at gyms and some office-based businesses. Other counties in the state moved to those restrictions in late November as well.
Before the new indoor dining closure, the scene at Moe’s was beginning to return to something resembling normalcy, with live music playing in a building that also offers bowling.
“People seemed to be getting used to wearing a mask and following guidelines and enjoying themselves,” Grantham said.
Already operating at reduced capacity, metro-area restaurants had been stretching to stay in business before the new restrictions. In the downtown Englewood area on South Broadway, eateries worked on different ways to operate, such as selling new to-go packages, Grantham said.
“Everybody’s trying to get real creative and try to figure out a way” to stay afloat, Grantham continued. “The restaurant industry has like a 10% (profit) margin — we’ve got to sell food to make rent.”
The state’s new restrictions still allow takeout, curbside and delivery service as well as outdoor dining with members of a person's own household.
“Come out and support your local restaurant,” Grantham said. “That’s really the only thing that’s going to help us right now.”
The Moe’s Original Bar B Que location in Denver closed its doors permanently on Nov. 10, before the indoor dining shutdown was announced, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.
The downtown Englewood Grand bar is “closed for the holidays,” according to a Facebook post on Nov. 17, the day Gov. Jared Polis announced the new restrictions.
“We’ll probably have one special cocktail-to-go day or weekend sometime during the month of December,” the bar wrote. “Stay tuned.”
A short walk from the Englewood Grand on the downtown South Broadway block, ZOMO, an “Asian and American eatery,” says it didn’t entirely mind shutting down indoor dining because its staff includes people in categories that are more vulnerable to developing severe cases of COVID-19, said Son Nguyen Jr., a manager at the restaurant.
“The crowds in the last few days seemed to be wearing masks less, needed more coaching on that,” Nguyen said. He added: “It seemed like things started to go backward.”
ZOMO wasn’t planning to furlough employees at the moment on Nov. 20, allocating fewer hours for staffers but staggering shifts to help keep them aboard, Nguyen said.
He’s noticed less traffic on Broadway and heard that some businesses on the block might close temporarily through the end of the year.
“I think for the most part, everyone’s hanging in there,” Nguyen said. “I haven’t seen any closures on the block or anything. But I’ve seen less staff, less customers in nearby restaurants.”
He hopes the government can provide some kind of economic relief package. The state Legislature was set to convene in a “special session” on Nov. 30, in part with the goal of passing assistance for bars, restaurants and other small businesses.
“We all have our fingers crossed that they can make something happen, kind of support the little guys.” Nguyen said. “We have (some) employees that are kind of scared for what’s coming next.”
Customers on Nov. 20 showed Nguyen some hope: Folks came with blankets, “prepared to endure the weather to eat outside,” he said. ZOMO still offers takeout and has portable propane heaters for its outdoor patio. Grantham, at Moe’s, pointed to “a lot of loyal customers getting to-go orders.”
“The neighborhood has been really good about letting us know they support us,” Nguyen said.
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